If you are having symptoms that suggest you might have a problem with your heart, your cardiologist will need more information to reach a diagnosis, and a stress test is often a good way to get it. A stress test does not mean that you experience worry or anxiety; it simply means that your heart is put to a physical challenge. Here’s why a stress test may be necessary:
When you are taking it easy - resting, sitting in a chair, walking at a leisurely pace - your heart is not working very hard. Even if you have a build-up of cholesterol plaque in the arteries of your heart, you may not experience any problems at a low level of activity, because the heart is getting all the blood it needs to keep up. In fact, a resting electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) may be completely normal.
A stress test raises the bar, using exercise (walking or running on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bicycle), or special medications, to make the heart beat faster and work harder. Healthy arteries can expand to increase the flow of blood and oxygen when the heart is working hard. But if you have a significant blockage in your heart arteries, they may already be nearly fully expanded, just to keep up with your day-to-day activities. They may not be able to expand even wider to meet the heart’s demands during stress. During a physical challenge, the shortfall in blood flow will cause abnormal changes in the heart that are likely to show up on the stress test.
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