Blog Post

What is a Stress Test and Should I Have One?

When your family doctor refers you to a cardiologist for a stress test, you may feel a bit nervous or alarmed. However, it’s not always a bad sign. It often means that your doctor wants to diagnose and attempt to understand symptoms you may be having.

You may be referred to a cardiologist to have another person on your personal care team. A stress test may comprise one of a variety of tests but most often, it means the traditional stress test, in which your heart functions are tested while you exercise. Dr. Fahmi Farah of Bentley Heart explains more about the functions of a stress test and when you may need one.

The different types of stress tests

When you’re referred for a cardiac stress test, we first do an electrocardiogram (EKG) or echocardiogram (ECG) to determine what your baseline heart rhythm looks like. Then, we may perform one of the following tests:

Traditional stress test

A traditional stress test consists of having you walk on a treadmill or ride an exercise bike, while an electrocardiogram (EKG) measures how your heart responds to the stress. 

In this test, the sensors of the electrocardiogram are attached to your chest like stickers, which transmit the data of your heart rhythms. In some cases, your heart rhythms are observed by ultrasound instead, called an echocardiogram (ECG.)

Chemical stress test

In other cases, the cardiologist will administer a drug intravenously. The drugs used are either dobutamine, persantine, or adenosine. These drugs affect the electrical activity of the heart. The chemical stress test is often used if you’re not physically fit enough for a traditional stress test or if the cardiologist prefers to do it.

After the test, you will be monitored until your heart rhythms return to your baseline.

Symptoms that may indicate the need for a stress test

A stress test can discover the cause of a lot of heart conditions. Among them include the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Chest heaviness while breathing
  • Shortness of breath

We may also order a cardiac stress test if you have concerns about your heart health; if you have a family history of heart disease; if you have high blood pressure; or if you have high cholesterol.

What happens if we find problems on the stress test

If anything appears abnormal on the stress test, you’ll be referred for more testing, including cardiac catheterization. Abnormalities may indicate the following:

  • Plaque deposits in your veins
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Arrhythmias (where your heart rhythms are irregular and beat too quickly or slowly)

False positives do sometimes occur, which is why we do additional follow-up testing.

What else could explain your symptoms

If you have problems like chest pain, heaviness in your chest, or shortness of breath, it may not be caused by a heart problem. Other causes of these symptoms may include:

  • Anxiety or panic attacks
  • Indigestion
  • Asthma or emphysema

Ruling out heart problems is often a great source of relief, especially if you’re having symptoms.

If you have been referred for a cardiac stress test or if you’re experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath, it’s an easy and relatively painless test. Contact Dr. Fahmi Farah at Bentley Heart or request an appointment online.