Who Should Have a Stress Test?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about one in every four deaths in the United States is due to heart disease. Given that sobering statistic, you may be wondering if you should get a stress test to find out if you’re at risk for having a heart attack. Dr. Shahrzad Shareghi shares some information, including who should have a stress test — and who shouldn’t.
There are different kinds of stress tests
The most common stress test is an exercise stress test, which measures how well your heart functions when you exercise. Usually, it’s administered while you’re on a treadmill or an exercise bike, with electrodes attached to a machine that measures your heart rate and rhythm. Your blood pressure is also monitored during the test.
If you can’t exercise, you most likely can still have a stress test. Instead of walking or pedaling, you’re given a drug to make your heart behave as if you’re exercising.
Another type of stress test is the nuclear stress test. In this procedure, Dr. Shareghi injects a small amount of a radioactive substance into your blood. Then she tracks it with a specialized camera to produce images that allow her to see how well your heart is working at rest and/or with exercise.
A stress echocardiogram uses ultrasound imaging during the test and is especially helpful for showing how your heart walls and blood vessels function during pumping.
Stress tests reveal a significant amount of information
Depending on which type of stress test you take, your results provide information about your:
- Heart rate, both when you’re at rest and exercising
- Heart rhythm
- How your blood flows through your arteries
- Breathing before, during, and after exertion
- Heart chambers and how your blood moves through them
A stress test alone can’t predict your risk of heart disease, but it’s an important diagnostic tool. The information Dr. Shareghi gathers can be used to determine whether you need additional tests or to guide your treatment.
Who should have a stress test?
If you’ve had symptoms of heart disease, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or dizziness, you may need a stress test. People who smoke or have a family history of heart disease may benefit from a stress test, as may those who have high blood pressure, diabetes, or other conditions associated with a higher risk of heart disease.
In addition to serving as a diagnostic tool, stress tests can help monitor your condition. For example, stress test results may show if your medication is working or if your condition is worsening or improving.
Who should not have a stress test?
Because of the prevalence of heart disease, stress tests may be ordered more often than they necessarily should be. It may seem as if there’s no harm in taking a screening test, or that the possible good may outweigh the possible bad. However, everyone doesn’t need to have a stress test.
The American College of Physicians recently issued guidelines concerning cardiac screening tests, including stress tests. The guidelines recommend that low-risk patients without symptoms don’t need to be screened. Instead, it’s more important for healthy people without symptoms to reduce their risk factors for heart disease than to undergo screenings. Lowering your blood pressure, maintaining a healthy weight, lowering your cholesterol, and not smoking will do more good than a stress test.
Although stress tests are considered safe and have been done for many years, they do carry some risks, such as the possibility of having a reaction to an injection, problems during exercise, or false-positive results, which can cause undue concern and additional, expensive, and unnecessary testing.
If you think you may be at risk of developing heart disease, you have symptoms of heart disease, or your primary care physician has recommended a stress test, book an appointment with Dr. Sharengi at Cardiovascular Care Center. Just call the office in Simi Valley, California, or use the “book online” button.