What Is Stress Echocardiography?
A stress echocardiography,
also called an echocardiography stress test or stress echo, is a procedure that
determines how well your heart and blood vessels are working.
During a stress echocardiography, you’ll exercise on a treadmill
or stationary bike while your doctor monitors your blood pressure and heart
rhythm. When your heart rate reaches peak levels, your doctor will take
ultrasound images of your heart to determine whether your heart muscles are getting
enough blood and oxygen while you exercise.
Your doctor may order a stress echocardiography test if you have
chest pain that they think is due to coronary artery disease or a myocardial infarction, which is a
heart attack. This test also determines how much exercise you can safely
tolerate if you’re in cardiac rehabilitation. The test can also determine how
well treatments such as bypass grafting, angioplasty, or anti-anginal or
antiarrhythmic medications are working.
What Are the Risks Associated with a Stress
This test is safe and noninvasive. Complications are rare, but
- an abnormal heart rhythm
- dizziness or fainting
- heart attack
How Do I Prepare for a Stress
This test usually occurs in an echocardiography laboratory, or
echo lab, but it can also occur in your doctor’s office or other medical
setting. It normally takes between 45 and 60 minutes.
Before you take the test, you should do the following:
- Make sure not to eat or drink anything for three
to four hours before the test.
- Don’t smoke on the day of the test because
nicotine can interfere with your heart rate.
- Don’t drink coffee or take any medications that
contain caffeine without checking with your doctor.
- If you take medications, ask your doctor whether
you should take them on the day of the test. You shouldn’t take certain heart
medications, such as beta-blockers, isosorbide dinitrate, isosorbide
mononitrate, and nitroglycerin, before the test. Let your doctor know if you
take medication to control diabetes as well.
- Wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes. Since
you will exercise, make sure to wear good walking or running shoes.
What Happens During a Stress
Your doctor will need to see how your heart functions while you’re
at rest to get an accurate idea of how it’s working. Your doctor will begin by
placing 10 small, sticky patches called electrodes on your chest. The
electrodes connect to an electrocardiograph (ECG).
The ECG will measure your heart’s electrical activity, especially the rate and
regularity of your heartbeats. You’ll likely have your blood pressure taken
throughout the test as well.
Next, you’ll lie on your side and your doctor will do a resting
echocardiogram, or ultrasound, of your heart. They’ll apply a special gel to
your skin and then use a device called a transducer. This device emits sound waves to create images of your
heart’s movement and internal structures.
After the resting echocardiogram, you will exercise on a
treadmill or stationary bicycle. Depending on your physical condition, your
doctor may ask you to increase the intensity of your exercise. You’ll probably need
to exercise for six to 10 minutes, or until you feel tired, to raise your heart
rate as much as possible.
Tell your doctor right away if you feel dizzy or weak, or if you have
chest pain or pain on your left side.
As soon as your doctor tells you to stop exercising, they’ll
perform another ultrasound. This is to take more images of your heart working
under stress. You’ll then have time to cool down. You can walk around slowly so
that your heart rate can return to normal. Your doctor will monitor your ECG,
heart rate, and blood pressure until the levels return to normal.
What Do the Test Results Mean?
The echocardiography stress test is very reliable. Your doctor
will explain your test results to you. If the results are normal, your heart is
working properly and your blood vessels are probably not blocked due to
coronary artery disease.
Abnormal test results may mean that your heart isn’t pumping
blood effectively because there’s a blockage in your blood vessels. Another
reason could be that a heart attack damaged your heart.
Diagnosing coronary artery disease and assessing your risk for
heart attacks early on can help prevent future complications. This test can
also help determine if your current cardiac rehabilitation plan is working for