You’ve been experiencing troubling symptoms, including 1) chest pain, 2) shortness of breath, 3) dizziness, and 4) palpitations. What could be going on?
All four of these are reasons your doctor may order a stress test. He needs to assess how your heart functions under physical strain, such as exercise, to determine if your symptoms are heart-related, and the test provides information about the potential underlying cause(s). Once confirmed, he can administer prompt and effective treatment.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, cardiologists Dr. A. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman use stress tests to help them diagnose a variety of heart conditions before they become a major health problem. Read on to learn about the types of stress tests and what information they can provide to your doctor.
What does a stress test tell your doctor?
A stress test reveals how well your heart handles its workload. If your heart, pushed to work harder than usual by the test, can’t pump enough blood to keep you going, then the arteries leading to your heart aren’t getting an adequate supply.
In addition to confirming symptoms, doctors order stress tests to learn:
- If your heartbeat is irregular
- If your heart receives enough blood during exercise
- If those symptoms have anything to do with your heart
- About abnormalities in your blood pressure
- About arrhythmias (changes in heart rhythm)
- About any abnormal electrical activity (important to coordinate contractions)
A stress test also permits the doctor to evaluate how effective your current cardiac treatment is, learn if you can return to exercising after a heart attack, and decide if you need additional evaluation to see whether your arteries are narrowed.
If you develop chest pain, dizziness, palpitations, or shortness of breath during the test, it may indicate you have carotid artery disease (CAD), blocked arteries that feed the brain. The doctor will follow up with a carotid ultrasound or other, similar, test to get more data.
The types of stress tests
Three types of stress tests can be conducted.
1. Exercise stress test
By far the most common type of stress test, an exercise test is also sometimes called a treadmill stress test or a stress EKG. The doctor places electrodes on your body before you start to monitor your heart’s electrical activity, then you exercise to stress the heart and increase its rate. .
Exercise involves about 15-20 minutes walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike. You start at a slow pace, then the doctor increases the speed until you either reach a predetermined peak heart rate or you develop symptoms. If you experience symptoms, he stops the test. Throughout the test, your blood pressure, pulse, and the heart’s electrical activity are monitored.
2. Medication stress test
If you’re unable to exercise for any reason, the doctor can use medication to increase your heart rate just as exercise would.
3. Nuclear/PET stress test
Also known as a radionuclide scan, this test involves a tracer dye injected into your bloodstream. It highlights the heart and blood flow on a positive emission tomography (PET) scan — completely noninvasive and painless — that you take following a treadmill or bike test. Once your heart returns to its normal resting rate, you have a second PET scan for comparison.
The doctors at Northwest Houston Heart Center regard this combination of tests as the gold standard, since the PET scan is an incredibly accurate diagnostic tool for coronary artery disease.
Not surprisingly, Northwest Houston has a dedicated cardiac PET scanner. Dr. Aslam is certified by the Certification Board of Nuclear Cardiology, and the center’s PET scan facility is an Accredited Facility by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission.
The cardiac PET scan results can show:
- Damaged muscles, both those that need immediate treatment and those that don’t
- Areas that don’t receive enough blood
- Blocked arteries
- Scarred heart tissue from previous heart attack
- Risk of sustaining a future heart attack
From these results, the doctor develops a detailed, individualized treatment plan.
If you’re experiencing any symptoms that may indicate an underlying heart condition, you need to make an appointment at Northwest Houston Heart Center for an evaluation with one of our cardiologists, likely along with some form of stress test.
To get started, give us a call at any of our locations — in Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, and The Woodlands, Texas — or book online today. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.