Should I get a Stress Echocardiogram?
Heart disease is the number one cause of death for men and women in the United States. According the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 610,000 Americans die each year due to heart disease. If you have a family history of heart disease or have chest pain you think may be related to your heart function, your doctor can perform a stress echocardiogram. This test will show how well your heart is working, giving you and your doctor valuable information on how best to stay on top of your heart health.
What Is a Stress Echocardiogram?
Stress echocardiography, also known as a stress test, is a series of procedures targeted at learning how well your heart and blood vessels are functioning. During the test, your doctor will monitor your blood pressure and heart rhythm while you exercise on either a treadmill or stationary bicycle. When your heart rate is highest during exercise, the doctor will use ultrasound imaging to see if your heart is receiving adequate blood and oxygen.
Why Would You Need a Stress Echocardiogram?
If you’ve been experiencing chest pain or shortness of breath, your doctor may order an echocardiogram if he or she believes your symptoms are caused by problems with your heart valves or chambers. If you’ve previously had a heart attack, your doctor may use the test to determine the following:
- The amount of exercise you can safely handle during your cardiac rehabilitation
- How well you’re tolerating any heart medications
- The success of any heart surgeries you've undergone such as bypass grafting or angioplasty
What Should I Expect During a Stress Echocardiogram?
Your test will take place in an echocardiography lab either in your doctor’s office or in another medical facility. Expect the test to last between 45 minutes to an hour. Your doctor will probably have you prepare for the test with the following orders:
- No eating or drinking for at least three hours prior to the stress test
- No smoking on the test day since nicotine interferes with your normal heart rate
- No drinking coffee or using any products or medications that contain caffeine
- Wear comfortable clothing and running shoes
To start the stress test, your doctor will place about 10 electrodes (sticky plastic patches) on your chest. The electrodes connect to an electrocardiograph (ECG) machine that measures the heart’s electrical activity with a special emphasis on the regularity and rate of heartbeats.
While lying on your side, your doctor will conduct an ultrasound exam of your heart, which uses sound waves to deliver an image of your heart’s movement and internal parts.
Next, you’ll begin exercising on the treadmill or stationary bike for about six to 10 minutes to elevate your heart rate. Your doctor will then perform another ultrasound that records images of your heart function under stress. After the second ultrasound, you’ll be monitored while you rest and your heart rate returns to normal.
How Does My Doctor Interpret My Results?
Stress echocardiograms are safe and reliable and pose little risk. If your stress test results are normal, your heart is healthy and any symptoms you may have are probably not caused by diseases of the heart or arteries. Abnormal results usually point to blocked blood vessels that are preventing your heart from effectively pumping blood throughout your system. Your doctor will explain your test results and set a course of treatment if necessary.
If you have symptoms that you believe warrant a stress echocardiogram, make an appointment today with one of the expert physicians at Neighborhood Radiology Services, PC in Manhattan, Queens, and Long Island.