Are Heart Stress Tests Different for Women and Men?

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There are multiple different kinds of stress tests, but most stress tests involve getting on a treadmill. And the truth of the matter is, if you can really exercise and do well on a treadmill then your heart is probably in good shape. But for some people we need more information. And you can have an echocardiogram along with the stress test that actually looks at the function of the heart muscle, and that function of the heart muscle is associated with healthy arteries.

For some people a nuclear stress test might be ordered. When you're injected with a nuclear substance in your veins, that grabs on to the red blood cells and goes through the heart, and we actually take pictures of the heart using a camera to see if the arteries are healthy or blocked. The stress test might be difficult in women, because women have plaque that is throughout the artery as opposed to men who have plaque in one discrete location. A stress test can sometimes not tell us the truth. This stress tests compare normal arteries to abnormal arteries, and in women when the plaque is throughout the artery, there's no normal. So a stress test might actually look normal when in fact there's a problem.

In men, when there's one area of abnormal compared to all the rest which is normal that's when we can see a problem. So if you're having symptoms of heart disease, and we're told you have a normal stress test, it might not mean that everything is okay, and it might actually mean that you need more advanced testing.