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Exercise stress test

Your doctor may recommend that you undergo a cardiac stress test if you are having symptoms of underlying heart problems. This test is used to measure your heart's ability to respond to external stress in a controlled clinical environment.

Mercy Medical Center provides exceptional diagnostics for our heart and vascular patients. Our physicians use the latest technology to ensure an accurate diagnosis so we can provide you with the best course of treatment available.

What is an exercise stress test?

A stress test is used to evaluate the heart and vascular system during exercise and can help answer two questions:

  1. Is coronary artery disease (CAD) present and apparent when the heart is stressed?
  2. If there is underlying heart disease, how severe is it likely to be?

Your stress test results can help your doctor figure out whether coronary artery disease (CAD) is producing blockages in the coronary arteries that supply blood to the heart muscle. If a partial blockage is present, the heart muscle may still get all the blood it needs when you are resting, but not while under stress (during exercise).

Because exercise raises adrenaline levels, stress tests can also detect certain cardiac arrhythmias and help measure how well your heart works, also known as its the "functional capacity."

What happens during an exercise stress test?

During the test, you will walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary exercise bike while connected to an electrocardiogram (ECG). The ECG will be attached to your chest with leads (wires) and a blood pressure cuff will be placed on your arm. A sensor may be placed on your finger to measure the amount of oxygen in your blood.

At first, you will exercise at a very low level, and then gradually increase how fast you are walking, jogging or pedaling. With each increase, a doctor or technician will measure your symptoms and blood pressure.

After the test, you will be monitored until any symptoms disappear and until your pulse, blood pressure and ECG return to their baseline levels.

Who is a candidate for a stress test?

A cardiac stress test would be ordered by your physician to help diagnose any underlying cardiac conditions.

The American Heart Association recommends exercise treadmill testing for patients with medium risk of coronary heart disease, determined by risk factors such as smoking, family history, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol.

Your doctor may order an exercise stress test if you are able to walk and perform exercise. If you are unable to do that, your doctor may order a pharmacological stress test.



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Heart disease comes in many forms and can affect people of any age, gender, or ethnicity. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The more you can learn about your heart health, the better. Knowledge is truly powerful medicine that helps you understand your risks and take action to lessen your potential for problems. It can lead to early detection, and most importantly, to early treatment and better outcomes.

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