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Pharmacological Stress Test


A pharmacological stress test is done when an exercise stress test is not possible due to physical limitations like back trouble, joint disease, prior stroke, dizziness or shortness of breath.

A chemical or pharmacological stress test uses a medication that increases your heart load in the place of exercise. An imaging technique such as echocardiography measures how much air moves in and out of your lungs.

Dignity Health Heart and Vascular Institute of Greater Sacramento 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.

During a Pharmacological Stress Test: What to Expect

The imaging portion of the test is identical to that used during an exercise stress test. You will have an IV (intravenous line) in your arm for the medication.

Before the test begins, a spirometry test may be done. This will measure the amount of air you inhale while at rest.

During the test, your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure are monitored.

Throughout the process, blood samples may be taken. This is done to measure oxygen and waste products in the blood during exercise.

After the test you can return to your normal diet, activity and medications. If you were told to skip medications before the test, ask if you should take them now. Your doctor will discuss the test results with you at your next visit.

Preparing for a Pharmacological Stress Test

Allow at least 30 minutes to check in. Prepare for the test as directed. You may be told to do any of the following:

  • Stop eating and drinking fluids for three (3) hours before the test. If you have diabetes, ask what you may eat or drink before the test
  • Notify your physician if you have a history of asthma, bronchitis or emphysema as some of the medications used during a chemical stress test are not used in patients with asthma
  • Stop smoking for at least 8-12 hours before the test
  • Stop taking certain medications 4-12 hours before the test

Pharmacological Stress Test: Risks and Complications

Like many tests, this test involves some risks. They may include:

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing
  • Rise or fall in blood pressure
  • Fainting, dizziness or fatigue
  • Abnormal heartbeat or heart rate
  • Nausea or headache
  • Heart attack or stroke (rare)