Regular stress testing
How does a Regular Stress Test Work?
Patients with coronary artery blockages may have minimal symptoms and an unremarkable or unchanged EKG while at rest. However, symptoms and signs of heart disease may become unmasked by exposing the heart to the stress of exercise. A motorized treadmill is used for exercise, in this test.
Why is a Regular Stress Test Performed?
A regular stress test is considered in the following circumstances:
How is a Regular Treadmill Stress Test Performed?
The patient is brought to the exercise laboratory where the heart rate and blood pressure are recorded at rest. Sticky electrodes are attached to the chest, shoulders and hips and connected to the EKG portion of the Stress test machine. A 12-lead EKG is recorded on paper. Each lead of the EKG represents a different portion of the heart, with adjacent leads representing a single wall.
Three of the EKG leads are also constantly displayed on the treadmill
monitor. Each lead representing a different wall. The physician has the option
of selecting different combinations of three.
The treadmill is then started at a relatively slow "warm-up" speed. The treadmill speed and it's slope or inclination are increased every three minutes according to a preprogrammed protocol (Bruce is the commonest protocol in the USA, but several other protocols are perfectly acceptable). The protocol dictates the precise speed and slope. Each three minute interval is known as a Stage (Stage 1, Stage 2, Stage 3, etc. Thus a patient completing Stage 3 has exercised for 3 x 3 = 9 minutes). The patient's blood pressure is usually recorded during the second minute of each Stage. However, it may be recorded more frequently if the readings are too high or too low.
As noted earlier, the EKG is constantly displayed on the monitor. It is also recorded on paper at one minute intervals. The physician pays particular attention to the heart rate, blood pressure, changes in the EKG pattern, irregular heart rhythm, and the patient's appearance and symptoms. The treadmill is stopped when the patient achieves a target heart rate (this is 85% of the maximal heart rate predicted for the patient's age). However, if the patient is doing extremely well at peak exercise, the treadmill test may be continued further. The test may be stopped prior to achievement of the target heart rate if the patient develops significant chest discomfort, shortness of breath, dizziness, unsteady gait, etc., or if the EKG shows alarming changes or serious irregular heart beats. It may also be stopped if the blood pressure (BP) rises or falls beyond acceptable limits. Please note that the systolic BP (upper number) may normally rise to 200 at peak exercise. At the same time, the diastolic BP (lower number) remains unchanged or falls to a slight degree. In contrast, the BP of patients with hypertension or high BP will show a rise of both systolic and diastolic readings. The latter may rise above 90 - 100.
Preparing for the Regular Stress Test:
The following recommendations are "generic" for all types of cardiac stress tests:
How quickly will I get the results and what will it mean? The physician conducting the test will be able to give you the preliminary results before you leave the exercise laboratory. However, the official result may take a few days to complete. The results of the test may help confirm or rule out a diagnosis of heart disease. In patients with known coronary artery disease (prior heart attack, known coronary blockages, previous treatment with angioplasty, stents or bypass surgery, etc.), the study will help confirm that the patient is in a stable state, or that a new blockage is developing. The results may influence your physician's decision to change your treatment or recommend additional testing such as cardiac catheterization, Echo Stress test, or a nuclear stress test.