An exercise stress test is performed to test the effect that exercise has on your heart. The test also allows you to know about the overall health of the heart. Exercise stress testing is conducted to determine the cause of palpitations and unexplained chest pains. The test checks your heart’s capacity to exercise and identifies any disturbances of rhythm during the exercise.
To perform exercise stress tests, you are made to walk on a treadmill or pedal on a stationary cycle. While you are performing the exercise, the electrical activity in your heart increases. During this time, the body requires more oxygen and the heart’s response to this increased need is mapped.
The test usually continues till a target heart rate is reached. However, it may be stopped if you begin to experience abnormal symptoms like chest pains and a rapid change in the blood pressure. The monitoring will continue even after you have stopped exercising, for a period of at least 15 minutes. If your heart rate returns to baseline before 10-15 minutes have elapsed, the testing may be stopped right there.
To prepare for the stress exercise test, try to refrain from eating, drinking and smoking for at least 3 hours before the test. Do not consume any alcohol for at least 24 hours before the test, as it may interfere with your heart’s performance. There is no need to stop any medications. Exercise stress test protocol doesn’t require you to abstain from medications. Therefore continue taking them, unless specified otherwise. Since the test requires you to perform some exercise, it is best to wear appropriate clothing. Loose fitting clothes and shoes are ideal.
To record and monitor the electrical impulses of your heart, electrodes will be attached to your arms, legs and chest. These electrodes catch the electrical activity and display them on a monitor, to which they are attached. The electrodes may cause slight stinging or burning sensations. Your blood pressure also has to be monitored during exercise. Therefore, a cuff to measure the blood pressure will be attached to your arm and it will be inflated after every few minutes. The squeezing sensation may feel a little tight sometimes, but this shouldn’t cause you any further discomfort.
The speed and the inclination of both the treadmill and the exercise bike are increased gradually. Therefore, it is only rarely that a person may experience dizziness or palpitations during the exercise.