A stress test, also called a treadmill test, can be an important tool to diagnose some heart problems that only become apparent when the heart is working a little harder than usual. The stress test is used to evaluate the heart and vascular system - veins and arteries - during exercise.
There are other types of stress tests as well. The stress echo test involves exercising on a treadmill or stationary cycle while you are closely monitored. Or, during a nuclear perfusion stress test, a special type of radioactive material is injected to help create more detailed images of your heart.
What to expect
A standard treadmill stress test takes place in an exercise lab. Your heart rate and blood pressure will be recorded at rest, then a total of 10 electrodes, which measure electrical activity, will be attached to your chest, shoulders, and hips. The electrodes are painless and will feel like sticky patches with lightweight wires attached.
Once the electrodes are attached, you will step onto a treadmill and the exam will begin. The speed and angle of the treadmill will increase every three minutes; each increase is called a stage. Your blood pressure will be recorded using a cuff on your arm.
Generally, the exam will end once you have reached your target heart rate, as determined by the doctor supervising the exam. If you are performing exceptionally well at your target heart rate, the test may continue. The test may be stopped early if you begin to experience significant chest discomfort, shortness of breath, dizziness, unsteadiness, serious irregular heartbeats, or if your blood pressure rises or falls outside of acceptable limits.
The doctor or staff may give you a general report on the results before you leave, and your regular doctor will follow up with official results.
With a nuclear perfusion stress test, a small amount of liquid called an isotope is injected into the bloodstream. Then, you will lie down on an exam table under a scanning camera can detect the isotope. The scan will take about 10 to 20 minutes.
After the scan, you will do a treadmill stress test.
No recovery time is needed with a stress test.