What is a stress test for?

Exercise stress testing is defined as the practice of physical exercise on a treadmill or exercise bike for the purpose of diagnosing or assessing the prognosis of coronary artery disease under investigation or already diagnosed. Ergometry, also called exercise stress testing, is an essential technique for diagnosing angina pectoris in patients with chest pain and for measuring the response of the heart when the patient is exercising. Its use in relation to coronary heart disease is based on the ability to detect cardiovascular alterations that do not occur when the person is at rest and that are detected when physical exercise begins.

When a patient suffers from coronary artery disease, the clogging of the artery can facilitate a normal blood flow to the heart at rest, so the patient will not feel any symptoms and the electrocardiogram will not reflect it either. On the contrary, at the time of sport or physical exercise of a certain intensity, the heart will increase the degree of effort and, consequently, the need for blood. If there is a coronary obstruction, it will lead to a deficit of blood flow that will influence the appearance of angina pectoris and/or the appearance of some symptoms that will be reflected in the electrocardiogram. Thanks to ergometry, angina can be simulated in a controlled manner in order to obtain a clear and precise diagnosis.

How is the stress test performed?

The stress test is based on intense physical activity on a treadmill or exercise bike. This test usually lasts between 10 to 20 minutes. In the moments prior to the test, two electrocardiograms will be performed. When the test begins, a continuous electrocardiogram is performed, in which special attention should be paid when the patient reaches maximum effort, just in case the person begins to feel symptoms related to angina pectoris or shortness of breath during exercise.

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How should the patient prepare for the stress test?

Before performing the exercise stress test, the patient should know if he/she has to stop taking any medication in the hours prior to the medical examination. It is also advisable to wear comfortable clothing that can be easily removed and comfortable footwear. On the other hand, if the patient has a lot of hair in the chest area, he/she will have to shave it off to ensure a correct evaluation of the electrocardiogram. With regard to food, it is advisable not to eat a large meal before the test, nor to eat after a prolonged fast, as this may cause a drop in blood sugar. The consumption of alcohol and caffeine is totally forbidden before the 3 hours prior to the test, in the same way it is not recommended to perform any intense physical exercise 12 hours before the ergometry.