Blog Post

What a Stress Test Can Reveal About Your Health

"Stress test" may sound the exact opposite of what you need when you have heart problems, but it's one of our most effective tools for diagnosing, treating, and monitoring cardiovascular health concerns. 

This simple, noninvasive procedure can provide important information about your cardiovascular health and be a key player in driving our treatment recommendations. 

Here, Dr. Fahmi Farah and our team at Bentley Heart in Fort Worth, Texas, walk you through everything you need to know about stress tests so you know what to expect. 

What is a stress test?

A stress test, also known as an exercise stress test or treadmill test, is a medical test used to evaluate your heart's response to exercise. Essentially, we force your heart to pump harder to expose problems that aren't detectable when your heart is at rest. 

One of the most common types of stress tests (the Bruce protocol exercise treadmill test) involves walking or jogging on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike while connected to an electrocardiogram (ECG) machine. The machine will monitor your heart rate, blood pressure, and ECG readings while you exercise.

Dr. Farah may add stress echocardiography and/or nuclear stress testing to your exercise test. Stress echocardiography uses ultrasound to take pictures of your heart before and after exercise. Nuclear stress testing also gathers images of your heart, but we first administer a special dye via an intravenous (IV) line in your arm to illuminate specific areas of your heart for imaging. 

If you can't tolerate exercise, we can administer a medication that increases your heart rate. After a consultation with Dr. Farah, we decide which type of stress testing is best for your symptoms and abilities. 

What can a stress test reveal about your health?

There are many reasons we have you take a stress test. A stress test can provide valuable, real-time information about your cardiovascular health, including the following.

Your blood flow

One of the main reasons we perform a stress test is to get an idea of how well blood and oxygen are circulating to and from your heart, which can help us diagnose coronary artery disease. A stress test can also reveal blockages or narrowing in your coronary arteries, which can cause chest pain, shortness of breath, and other symptoms.

Your heart rhythm

During a stress test, we can detect abnormal or irregular heartbeats that may not appear on an ECG taken at rest.

Your fitness level

A stress test can evaluate your fitness level and determine whether you're at risk for heart disease or other health problems. The information from a stress test helps us create a customized fitness plan. 

Effectiveness of treatment

We also use stress tests as a monitoring tool. If you've been diagnosed with heart disease or other cardiovascular conditions, we can evaluate how well your treatment plan is working (or not) and make adjustments if necessary.

Stress tests also provide valuable information about your long-term prognosis and help us determine the best course of treatment.

What happens during a stress test?

During a stress test, we connect you to an ECG machine and ask you to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. We begin at a low intensity and gradually increase in intensity every few minutes. As you exercise, we watch your heart rate, blood pressure, and ECG readings throughout the test. 

We closely monitor your health during your test, but if you experience any symptoms like chest pain or shortness of breath, let us know immediately.

How do you prepare for a stress test?

When we schedule your stress test, we provide you with instructions on how to prepare for it, but in general, you should:

  • Avoid caffeine, tobacco, and alcohol for at least 24 hours before the test
  • Wear comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for exercise
  • Avoid eating a heavy meal before the test
  • Let us know about any medications or health conditions that may affect the test

If you're experiencing symptoms or have risk factors for heart disease, talk to us about whether a stress test is right for you. Call or click to schedule an appointment with Dr. Farah today.