What to Know and Expect if Your Doctor Recommends a Stress Echocardiogram

stress echocardiogramPhoto by BlueOctane on English Wikipedia

Have you had a recent doctor’s appointment and been told that a stress echocardiogram should be done? If you’ve never had one of these before, it can cause a bit of stress on its own. It’s normal to get nervous and feel unsure about tests and procedures that you know nothing about. While you can and should ask your doctor for more details, it can be helpful to also do your own research to put your mind at ease and answer your questions.

So, before you get yourself too worked up or nervous about it, let’s take an in-depth look at what a stress echocardiogram is, why it is done, how long it takes, and what is involved. We will also touch upon the results and information that the test can reveal so that you feel more comfortable going into the test.

What is a Stress Echocardiogram?

A stress echocardiogram is often referred to as a stress test, or even a stress echo. The purpose of the test is to take a look at your blood vessels and heart so the doctor can determine how well they are working. In order to see how your heart and blood vessels are working, you will actually perform exercises during the test while you are being monitored.

An ultrasound image is taken of your heart once your heart rate increases. The reason this is done is that it will show how much oxygen and blood is working its way into your heart’s muscles.

Why Would a Doctor Order a Stress Echocardiogram?

So why would a doctor order this type of test? Well there are a few reasons that may prompt them to order the test be done such as a heart attack, coronary artery disease, chest pain, or a myocardial infarction.

And it’s not just about looking at disease and health issues; if you have been a recent patient of angioplasty, bypass grafting, or take antiarrhythmic or anti-anginal medication, the test can show how effective the treatment has been. It gives doctors that all-important inside look at how your heart is functioning and responding.

What to Expect During the Test

Now that you’re feeling clearer on what the test is and why it’s ordered, it’s time to put your mind at ease regarding the actual test itself. This is a non-invasive test so you don’t have to worry about any sort of involved procedure. It’s also relatively safe but there can be side effects such as fainting, dizziness, an abnormal heart rate, or in extreme cases heart attack. This is because you will be exerting a fair amount of energy as you exercise.

When you first arrive for your test, a technician will place small electrodes on your chest. These are flat patches that are sticky so they stay in place. During the exercise portion of the test, they will attach wires to the electrodes that will read the electrical activity happening in your heart. This doesn’t hurt, nor will you feel a thing. Sometimes a clear gel will also be applied to your skin in order to help the electrodes stick better.

Now it’s time for the resting echocardiogram which will take a look at your heart’s activity before exercise. Once that is done, it’s time to get exercising. Typically, you will work out on a stationary bike or treadmill. The technician will inform you about the intensity that you need to exert during the test.

They will want to get your heart rate elevated as much as possible, so you will be exerting a lot of energy. The test tends to take about 10 minutes. During this time if you start to have any sort of chest pain, you feel weak, or you get dizzy, it’s important to let the technician know.

You will keep exercising until the technician tells you to stop. At that point, an ultrasound is done so that they can see how your heart is functioning. You can then start a cool down period to allow your heart to return to its natural level. Again, the technician will monitor you during this time.

In some cases, you will perform a stress test with medication. If that’s the case, the medication is administered through your arm using an IV. This is so that a resting EKG can also be done, which will make your heart think you are still exercising. During this process it’s common for the technician to ask how you’re doing at regular intervals.

How to Prepare Yourself for the Test

In total, the test should take about an hour. Typically, you will be told not to eat or drink for four hours leading up to the test. If you are a smoker, you will be asked not to smoke on the day of the test. If you happen to take medication, then you will need to ask your doctor if you should still take it that day.

Now, because you will be working out, you want to dress in loose comfortable clothing and supportive athletic shoes. Choose a shirt that makes it easy for the electrodes to be placed under. In other words, skip the tight top.

Understanding the Results

As for the results, you may or may not be given them on that same day. This will depend on where you get your test done and who is there to perform it and read the results. If your test comes back as normal, then you know your heart is functioning well and there aren’t any issues.

If you get an abnormal test result, then it could mean that there is damage to your heart or that it isn’t pumping blood in an effective manner. These tests can also help as far as predicting future issues so that you can take measures to prevent things like heart disease.

Having a stress echocardiogram done is nothing to be worried about, and instead should be seen as a valuable tool in assessing your heart’s health.