Stress tests offer medical professionals a means to detect signs that you may have coronary artery disease or an arrhythmia. Analyzing the results of your test is best left to a cardiologist. You and your cardiologist can discuss what they mean, because a positive stress test may not be definitive.
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A stress test involves you exercising on a treadmill or stationary bike. During this time, a technician or cardiologist measures the rhythm of your heart, blood pressure and respiratory rate. At the beginning of the test, a technician takes baseline readings while you are lying down and again with you standing up. This gives a sample of your normal rates. During the test, the intensity of the exercise may increase. For example, the cardiologist may change the speed and incline on the treadmill. Afterwards, the result will be analyzed by the cardiologist.
A stress test is a way to determine the effect of exercise on your heart function. Your doctor may decide to refer you to a specialist for a stress test if you are complaining of chest pain or angina. The cardiologist will be looking for signs of coronary artery disease, a condition that reduces blood flow to the heart, or arrhythmia, an irregular electrical impulse to the heart. A stress test may also help the cardiologist determine the most effective treatment for a diagnosed heart problem.
While a stress test offers doctors a place to start when assessing your coronary health, the method is not perfect. A positive result would show an abnormality in your heart rate, blood pressure and breathing while exercising. A 2007 report in the "Southern Medical Journal" found that 30 percent of women who take a stress test may have a false positive. You could still have a negative stress test and continue to have symptoms of a problem. If the symptoms continue, your doctor may order a more advance testing procedure known as a nuclear stress test. This takes images of the heart while you exercise to show specific problem areas.
The results from a stress test may point your doctor to a problem or may be a way to measure your heart health. What the results mean depends on a number of factors. If you are having pain, this is a sign of a problem even if the test is negative. A positive result may not mean that you are sick. Your doctor may choose to repeat the test if you have a positive just to be sure it is accurate. While taking the test, tell the technician if you feel pain or are dizzy. If you are diabetic, make sure the medical professional monitoring the test know this, because exercise may cause your blood sugar level to drop. Also, tell the technician if you are asthmatic and take your rescue inhaler with you when you take the test. Follow the instructions given to you to prepare for the test carefully. For example, your doctor may instruct you not to eat or drink anything. These factors may affect the test results.