If you experience chest pain and/or shortness of breath, especially when you’re moving, your doctor will want to test you for heart disease. To do that, he may order a stress test, which provides information about how your heart functions under physical strain. That includes identifying the underlying cause(s) of those symptoms, which allows them to administer prompt and effective treatment.
A stress test may also be ordered following a heart attack or any heart disease diagnosis. It allows the doctor to determine how effective your current cardiac treatment is and if you’re able to return to exercising.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, cardiologists Dr. A. Adnan Aslam and Dr. Roy Norman use stress tests to help diagnose and treat your heart condition before it jeopardizes your health. One type of stress test is the nuclear stress test. Here’s what the team wants you to know about what’s involved in the test and what information your doctor learns from it about how your heart functions.
What a stress test tells your doctor
Any type of stress test tells your doctor, in great detail, how well your heart is functioning. The test pushes the heart to work harder than normal, so it needs to pump more blood to keep pace with the body’s increased demand. If it can’t keep up, the test shows a lack of blood supply through the arteries leading to the heart. The results also help the doctor determine the type and level of physical exercise that’s right for you.
Any form of stress test shows:
- Irregular heartbeat
- Amount of blood your heart receives during exercise
- Heart-related symptoms
- Abnormal blood pressure
- Changes in your heart rhythm
- Unusual electrical activity
- If the medications you take for you heart are doing their job
- Whether you need further tests
If you experience chest pain or shortness of breath during your stress test, it may mean you have coronary artery disease (CAD), a narrowing or blockage in one or more of the arteries that feed the heart. To confirm or reject the diagnosis, your doctor may order other tests.
Exercise stress tests
The most common form of stress test is the exercise test. It may also be called a treadmill stress test or a stress EKG because you walk on a treadmill or use a stationary bike to increase the heart’s rate. The doctor monitors how the heart performs during the test, as well as your blood pressure and other vitals.
You spend about 10-15 minutes exercising, either on the treadmill or the bike. You start at a slow pace, which the doctor increases until you reach a predetermined peak heart rate or until you develop symptoms such as pain or shortness of breath and need to stop.
What’s involved with a nuclear/PET stress test?
The nuclear test combines an exercise stress test with a positive emission tomography (PET) scan given right afterward. The PET scan uses a tracer, a medically safe radiopharmaceutical agent injected through an IV into your bloodstream. It highlights the heart as well as blood flow on the PET scan. For comparison, we perform a second PET scan when your heart is at rest. This allows us to put the test results into perspective.
At Northwest Houston Heart Center, our cardiac specialists consider the nuclear test the gold standard of stress tests. The PET scan is an incredibly advanced and accurate diagnostic tool for CAD — blockages in the heart’s arteries — among other cardiovascular problems.
Northwest Houston has its own cardiac PET scanner, one of the few practices in the greater Houston area that does, and it has provided onsite nuclear stress testing for over 10 years. Dr. Aslam holds a certification from the Certification Board of Nuclear Cardiology, and the center’s PET scan facility is labeled an Accredited Facility by the Intersocietal Accreditation Commission. That makes Northwest Houston where you need to be for proper cardiac diagnosis and effective treatment.
The cardiac PET scan images reveal:
- Damaged muscles
- Areas that don’t receive enough blood
- Blocked arteries
- Scarred heart tissue from a previous heart attack
- Risk of sustaining a first or subsequent heart attack
With this information, the doctor develops a detailed, individualized treatment plan for each patient.
There’s nothing special you need to do to prepare for the test except to come in wearing comfortable clothing that won’t hamper exercise.
If you’re having symptoms that might indicate heart disease, or if you’re at an increased risk for developing it, you need to come into Northwest Houston Heart Center for a stress test, diagnosis, and treatment. Call us at any of our locations — in Tomball, Cypress, Magnolia, or The Woodlands, Texas — today, or book online. You can also text us at 832-402-9518.