What Is Exercise Stress Test (EST)?

At Beacon Hospital, the exercise stress test is an important tool in early detection and diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, or to guide its treatment. It is also offered in our Health Screening & Wellness Centre to screen for heart disease.

The test is carried out by a specialist physician in a controlled environment, where the effect of external stress on the heart is assessed.

Doctors use exercise stress tests to help:

  • Assess symptoms, such as chest pain, syncope, shortness of breath or palpitations, to determine whether they are coming from the heart
  • See if enough blood flows to your heart as you get more active
  • Learn how your heart medications are working
  • Find out if it’s likely that you have coronary heart disease and need more testing
  • Identify abnormal heart rhythms
  • See how well your heart valves are working (aortic valve)
  • Help you develop a safe exercise program

How you prepare

Food and medications

  • Make sure to ask the doctor if it’s safe for you to continue taking all of your prescription and over-the-counter medications before the test. You should only stop taking medications if your doctor tells you to do so.
  • You might need to avoid eating, drinking or smoking for a period of time before a stress test.
  • You might also need to avoid caffeine the day before and the day of the test.
  • Make sure to keep your doctor informed if you’re using an inhaler for asthma or other breathing problems.

Clothing and personal items

  • Wear or bring comfortable clothes and walking shoes.

What you can expect for an Exercise Stress Test

Exercise stress test

The exercise stress test will take around an hour, including both your prep time and the time it takes to perform the actual test. The actual test takes only around 15 minutes. You will have an exercise stress test in which you walk on a treadmill.

Before an exercise stress test

  • Prior to exercise, our nurses will ask you some relevant medical history.
  • This helps determine the amount of exercise that’s appropriate for you during the test. Your doctor will also listen to your heart and lungs for any abnormalities that might affect your test results.

During an exercise stress test

  • A nurse or technician will place sticky patches (electrodes) on your chest, legs and arms.
  • The electrodes have wires connected to an electrocardiogram machine, which records the electrical signals that trigger your heartbeats.
  • You’ll start off by walking slowly on a treadmill. The speed and grade of the treadmill will be increased as the test continues.
  • You continue exercising until your heart rate has reached a set target or until you develop symptoms that don’t allow you to continue.
  • If you experience any difficulties — especially, chest pains, weakness, or fatigue – please inform our staff.

These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Moderate to severe chest pain
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Abnormally high or low blood pressure
  • An abnormal heart rhythm
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue

When your doctor is satisfied with your results, you’ll be able to stop exercising. Your heart rate and breathing will continue to be monitored for a short while afterward.

After an exercise stress test

  • Your doctor can watch for any abnormalities as your heart rate and breathing return to normal.
  • When your exercise stress test is complete, you may return to your normal activities unless your doctor tells you otherwise.
  • After the test, your doctor will review the results with you. The test could reveal irregular heart rhythms or other changes that may indicate coronary artery disease

Follow up

  • If the information gathered during your exercise stress test shows your heart function to be normal, you may not need any further tests.
  • On the off chance that your test results propose that you may have coronary artery disease or show an arrhythmia, your doctor will use the information to develop a treatment plan and if any further treatment required, the doctor will set an appointment as a follow-up.

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