Making sure your heart is working and pumping regularly is an integral part of a healthy and fit life. Most of us learn from a young age how to maintain a healthy heart by eating well and exercising consistently.

However, what many people might not know about are stress tests, which are common, non-invasive tests that show whether the heart is healthy or not. The concept is simple. The patient walks on a treadmill, blood starts to pump more frequently, vitals are checked, and every three minutes from then on vitals are checked again.

This test could be ordered by a medical practitioner for a variety of reasons, but essentially, it’s to find any underlying issues with someone’s heart while they do physical activity.

As University of Calgary scientist Dr. Robert Rose explains, sometimes the issue doesn’t arise until it becomes very severe.

“When we’re at our desks doing our work, or on the couch watching a movie, our hearts are pumping very slowly due to the lack of physical movement so you might think everything is fine. However, if you’re forced to now shovel heavy snow for an hour then something might happen only in those conditions.

The point of this test is to do that but in a controlled setting with medical professionals so if something does happen, it can be treated quickly.”

Types of Stress Tests

Currently, there are various types of stress tests which include the one mentioned above that takes place on a treadmill to check vitals, but this can be taken a step further with an exercise stress echocardiogram.

The point of this advanced procedure is to provide healthcare professionals with more in-depth detail as to the patient’s vitals. During this test, an ultrasound of the heart is performed before and after peak exercise. The imaging will check to see how easily blood is being pumped along with the flow of blood throughout the body.

An even more advanced version is the nuclear stress test which uses a safe amount of a radioactive substance and cardiac imaging to analyze how healthy the heart is. This procedure can be used for more serious cases where a patient might have coronary artery disease and/or to determine if a patient is healthy enough for non-cardiac surgery.

Who Should Do a Stress Test?

There are several reasons why a doctor may order a stress test, most commonly to diagnose various heart problems such as coronary artery disease when arteries get blocked or become disease ridden, or an arrythmia, which is irregular heart rhythms.

Other heart problems that can be detected with a stress test include heart failure, heart valve disease, and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Stress tests also help people that have already been diagnosed with a heart condition to determine how treatments are going. Depending on the results, a doctor can either make changes to the overall treatment or keep going as is.

An exercise stress test should be done by patients that have already been diagnosed with heart disease and want to begin exercising with a doctor’s approval. This could be important for those with a high-risk level, or with high intensity and stressful jobs, such as professional athletes or airline pilots.

On the other hand, those who have been diagnosed with heart disease in the past with no new symptoms, people with no history of heart disease or their symptoms, and those that live a healthier lifestyle with consistent exercise and no smoking may not need a stress test.

For more information watch the video below by Mount Sinai Dr. Ramesh Gowda breaking down stress tests and everything that needs to be known about them.

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