What is an Cardiac Stress Test?
Sometimes referred to as a cardiac diagnostic test, cardiopulmonary exercise test, or (abbreviated) CPX test, the cardiac stress test is a cardiological test that measures the heart’s ability to endure and respond to stress in a controlled environment. By comparing your circulation at rest with the same measurements taken at maximum exertion, the doctors are able to check for any possible signs of CAD or any other heart disease. The test can be conducted by having the patient undergo physical stress (by walking on a treadmill, for example) or by administering pharmacological stimulation. Patients with a risk of coronary heart disease partake in the test. You may be at risk of coronary heart disease if you smoke, have a family history of coronary artery stenosis, hypertension, or have diabetes and high cholesterol.
What to Expect From the Test?
While the test isn’t your usual standardized exam, knowing what you’re getting into may help. Before the test begins, the doctors will take your resting vitals. They note things like blood pressure, pulse, heart rhythm, heart rate, etc. The vitals are usually recorded every three minutes, as the exercise bike or treadmill intensity increases. This will continue until you reach your maximum heart rate. The test will conclude once your maximum heart rate has been recorded. If for whatever reason you aren’t able to use your legs for the test, the doctors may provide a crank to be pulled with your arms. In certain cases they may give the patient dobutamine. It’s a short-acting drug, which can simulate the effects of exercise on the heart. In regards to timing, the test itself will only take up about six to fifteen minutes. However, going to the appointment 20 minutes in advance will allow you to fill out any paperwork they give you, and relieve you of any rush. A patient shouldn’t eat or drink anything caffeinated 24 hours prior to the test. Water is fine for up to 4 hours before the test.
The test is great for detecting blockages, but falls short on identifying how much an artery has hardened or thickened. Doctors are able to detect areas of restriction or diagnose the severity of CAD, but that’s pretty much it. The test cannot aid doctors in predicting when someone may have a heart attack either.
Although the cardiac stress test is overall a very safe and controlled procedure, patients with an advanced heart disease may experience fainting, chest pains (also known as angina), irregular heartbeat (commonly referred to as arrhythmia), and in some severe cases patients might even get a heart attack. If the doctor finds the test appropriate for you, chances are you’re at a low risk of suffering from any of the risks mentioned above.
It’s imperative for you to understand that a Cardiac Stress Test is open to interpretation and may not be enough for a solid diagnosis. If for example, you’re experiencing cardiovascular symptoms but the test has no record of it, you may want to openly and freely discuss other options with your doctor. Regardless of the risks, limitations, and ambiguity surrounding the test, it can still show signs which may lead to an early diagnosis of CAD and atherosclerosis. It’s also a relatively cheap and and safe test. Talk with your physician today about whether or not a Cardiac Stress test is right for you.