What to Expect From Stress Testing

What to Expect From Stress Testing

Stress testing provides unique information about the health of your heart. This type of test is currently the only way to learn how well your heart works when it's forced to pump more blood than normal.

You may need a stress test when you have symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, or an irregular heartbeat. In addition to diagnosing the cause of your symptoms, stress testing guides treatment decisions.

No matter why you need a stress test, you receive individualized care from the specialists at Woodlands Heart and Vascular Institute. They perform stress tests in the office, where you can rely on personalized attention before, during, and after the test. Read on to learn what to expect throughout your stress testing.

Before stress testing

You don't need to do much to prepare for a stress test. We typically ask people to avoid caffeine the day before, and we may ask you to stop eating or drinking before your test. You'll receive any other instructions based on your unique health. Otherwise, you only need to wear comfortable clothes.

Before your test, we explain the procedure and talk with you about any current symptoms or concerns. After taking your blood pressure and listening to your heart, we place self-adhesive electrodes on your chest, arms, and legs. Each electrode has a wire that connects to the electrocardiogram (EKG) machine.

The electrodes pick up your heart's electrical activity, and the EKG device records the activity during your stress test. You also wear a blood pressure cuff so we can monitor your blood pressure.

During exercise stress testing

Traditional stress testing takes place while you exercise on a treadmill. Before you begin, we take a baseline EKG showing your normal heart activity.

Your stress test starts at a slow pace, then we increase the treadmill's speed and incline at regular intervals. With each change, your exercise intensity increases, which makes your heart work harder.

The goal is to get your heart up to a maximum targeted rate. However, your stress test may continue after you reach your targeted rate or stop before that point.

If you feel good, your stress test continues until you’re too tired or out of breath to keep exercising. Alternately, we stop the test when any of the following arise:

Your test may also stop if we see certain changes in your EKG. Throughout the test, we constantly monitor your health so you don't need to worry about your well-being as you exercise.

During pharmacologic stress testing

If you can't exercise, we can still get the information about your heart by performing pharmacologic stress testing. We begin the same way, putting on electrodes and placing the blood pressure cuff around your arm. Then we take an image of your heart while you rest.

For the next step, you receive an intravenous infusion of a medication that boosts your heart rate. Then we take another image to see the changes in your heart.

After stress testing

You stay in the office and relax after your stress test so we can monitor your heart for a time before you leave. The next step depends on the results of your test. You may only need to schedule a follow-up appointment or you may need additional cardiac testing to identify the cause of any unusual results.

Here's a rundown of the basic information we evaluate after stress testing:


Changes in your EKG reveal if your heart doesn't get enough blood while you exercise. In most cases, this is a sign of narrowed or clogged coronary arteries. The EKG may also show irregular heartbeats while you exercise (and if they disappear at rest).

Blood pressure

Increases and decreases in your blood pressure reflect the blood supply to your heart. For example, if your blood pressure doesn't increase by a certain amount, or it starts to decrease while you exercise, you may have problems with the heart muscles or valves.

Heart rate

If your heart doesn't beat as fast as expected during exercise, or it takes too long to return to normal after your test, you may have an electrical problem or other heart condition.


Symptoms that appear when you exercise, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue, need additional testing to determine the cause.

Exercise capacity

Stress tests help us determine the amount of exercise you can tolerate. This information is important to determine treatments and to decide when you can return to activities after a heart attack or cardiac procedure.

If you have questions about stress testing, call our office in The Woodlands, Texas, or book an appointment online today.

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