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How does a stress test work?

A stress test measures your heart health when you're both active and at rest. In this video, Samuel Rougas, MD, of Aurora Denver Cardiology Associates in Colorado, explains doctors use stress tests to determine your risk of heart disease.
How Stress Tests Work
A stress test forces the heart to work harder while measures of heart function are monitored. This test can tell doctors if part of the heart muscle is not receiving enough blood due to blockages in the coronary arteries, if heart valves may not be working correctly or if a procedure to treat heart disease was successful, among other things.
 
The test involves asking a patient to exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike, or take medications that will make the heart respond as if the patient is exercising. During exercise, heart function is monitored by an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) machine that measures the electrical impulses in the heart. Common medications used for pharmacological (medication) stress tests include dipyridamole, dobutamine and adenosine.
A stress test is a practical way to assess your heart's capacity for work -- and to identify coronary artery disease. A stress test involves inducing heart stress and then monitoring your heart's reaction. There are two ways to induce the necessary stress for a stress test. These can be used alone or together:
  • Exercise. An exercise stress test examines your heart function under the stress of exercise. In the test, you walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bicycle at gradually increasing workloads.
  • Medication. If you can't exercise at a level that stresses your heart -- for example, you have arthritis or another problem that limits your activity -- your healthcare provider can give you a medication that stimulates your heart.

Continue Learning about Heart and Circulatory System

Heart and Circulatory System

Heart and Circulatory System

Your circulatory system is made up of your heart and three main types of blood vessels -- arteries, veins and capillaries. Your heart is at the center of the system, acting as a pump to distribute nutrient- and oxygen-rich blood t...

hrough your body; it then takes away carbon dioxide and other waste your body doesn't need. Signs of poor circulation include cold hands and feet, numbness, dizziness, migraines, varicose veins and pain in your feet or legs. Untreated, poor circulation can lead to stroke, high blood pressure, kidney damage and other diseases. Learn more about your heart and circulatory system with expert advice from Sharecare.
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.