Heart disease kills thousands of people every year and many times this could have been prevented with proper testing. A stress test is used by doctors to help determine if a patient has coronary artery disease and how bad it is.
For many people, they don’t even know they have a problem. They go about their lives as if nothing is wrong. One day, they’re walking down the street or sitting at their desk at work and have a heart attack. There may have been subtle signs in the days leading up to it, but if they had a stress test it could have been avoided.
What is Coronary Artery Disease?
In order to function properly, the heart needs a steady supply of blood from arteries. As people age, these arteries can fill up with a material called plaque, which restricts the flow of blood to the heart. This is commonly called coronary artery disease.
There are many reasons why plaque accumulates in the arteries from what you eat to genetic susceptibility. When your heart is at rest, it doesn’t need a large amount of blood. Even if arteries are clogged with plaque, you’re not feeling the effects because it’s allowing enough blood to function.
It’s not until your heart is active that the arteries can’t keep up with demand and you feel the impact of the plaque. If you ignore it, then it can lead to a blood clot and a heart attack.
If you feel chest pain, dizziness or weakness with physical activity, then contact your doctor.
Stress Tests and EKG Machines
While coronary artery disease is only one reason why a doctor might order a stress test, it’s one of the most common. Any condition that only shows up when the heart is active requires a stress test.
A stress test requires an EKG machine and a specially designed treadmill. The doctor connects the patient to an EKG machine and then they begin walking or running on the treadmill.
If the blood flow is restricted, then when the heart needs more oxygen because of the exercise, it has to work harder. It may also develop tachycardia or other issues that are caught on the EKG machine.
Once the problem is known, doctors can create a treatment plan or request additional tests to further determine the problem.
Types of Stress Tests
Treadmill stress tests are by far the most prevalent of the types of stress tests available, but there are other types. By definition, stress tests provide stress to the heart to determine issues, but not everyone has the ability to use a treadmill.
People with physical disabilities such as arthritis may be unable to use a treadmill. Instead, they use a dobutamine or adenosine stress test. The doctor injects a patient with a drug that simulates exercise without actual physical activity.
If doctors need a clear picture of how the heart works, then they may use a nuclear stress test. The doctor injects a small amount of radioactive material into the patients. A specially designed camera is able to see the rays and produce a clear picture. This is done both while resting and with physical exercise.
Preparing for a Stress Test
You need to prepare for a stress test just as you would any other medical procedure. It’s important to avoid anything that might influence your heart rate such as caffeine and fasting for four hours prior to the best.
Ask your doctor if you should take any heart medications before the test and if you have asthma or other illness that requires an inhaler when doing physical exercise, bring it to the test.
Follow all of the instructions of your doctor before and during the test. They need to get the most accurate results and if something interferes with how the heart reacts, they may not be able to get a diagnosis.
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