Health screening is an essential part of staying healthy and detecting any issues early. As you get older, it’s especially important to get regular screening tests for heart disease. After all, your heart is one of the most vital organs in your body. It pumps blood, transports oxygen and nutrients to your cells and eliminates waste products. One type of cardiac screening is a cardiac stress test.
What is cardiac stress testing?
A cardiac stress test is used to determine how your heart functions during physical activity. As your heart pumps faster and harder during exercise, a cardiac stress test can detect issues with blood flow within your heart. During the test, you’ll usually start by walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bicycle while electrocardiogram (ECG) electrodes are placed on your chest to monitor your heart’s electrical rhythms. A blood pressure cuff will also be placed on your arm for monitoring throughout the test. The doctor also monitors whether you have symptoms like chest discomfort or fatigue. Abnormalities in blood pressure, heart rate, or ECG or worsening physical symptoms could point to coronary artery disease (CAD): fatty deposits (plaques) that reduce the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle. As the test progresses, the difficulty of the test will increase.
It is usually conducted in a clinic or hospital, where your doctor can carefully monitor you to minimise the risk of complications caused by exerting your body. The procedure takes about 10 to 15 minutes, during which your blood pressure, heart rate and heart’s electrical activity will be measured.
Even if you’re a fit and healthy individual, it’s important to do this test as a precautionary measure for your health. Here’s why:
It estimates your risk of heart disease
Although you may not have symptoms that are associated with heart disease, certain factors still put you at risk for developing it. These factors range from your age, weight, fitness and more. Fortunately, heart disease can be prevented with a change in lifestyle. Once your risk of heart disease is determined through the test, you can make appropriate changes in your diet, stress management and habits. This helps to reduce your risk of the disease while you still can.
Stress Test Results
An exercise stress test is designed to find out if one or more of the coronary arteries feeding the heart contain fatty deposits (plaques) that block a blood vessel by 70% or more. Additional testing is often required to confirm the test result.
|Test Result||What It Could Mean||What Could Still Happen||What is the next step?|
|Normal||You do not have significant coronary artery disease (70% or greater artery blockage).||You could still have a heart attack if a smaller blockage (less than 70%) ruptures and forms a clot.||Your doctor may want to do further testing if you have other risk factors for heart disease that raise concern.|
|Abnormal||You may have significant coronary artery disease (70% or greater artery blockage).||The abnormal result may be a false alarm and could require further testing to confirm.||The doctor may order additional tests to confirm that you have coronary artery disease.|
Heart disease can be asymptomatic
While we often associate heart disease with chest pains that are intense enough to make us collapse to the ground, this may not necessarily be the case. Many people who have heart disease don’t experience any symptoms at all, so they’re not even aware that they have the condition. As a result, they don’t receive the necessary medications that could help to prevent a life-threatening stroke or heart attack.
A stress test can detect heart disease in individuals without symptoms, making it a crucial diagnostic tool that could potentially save your life.
Ensures safe exercise
If you’re starting a new exercise programme, a cardiac stress test is helpful to indicate your level of health and fitness. As you’ll be exerting your body during the test, your doctor will be able to determine what level of exercise is suitable for you to handle. This is crucial to ensure that you’re kept safe when you exercise and that you aren’t doing something that could potentially harm your body.
Prevention is always better than cure. Don’t wait on getting a health screening test just because you feel like you’re in good shape. If you’d like to find out more about a cardiac stress test, don’t hesitate to speak to a cardiologist!