An exercise stress test is carried out to look for heart disease – and it involves exercising. Is there any other way to gather information about heart disease?
Yes, there is another way to conduct a heart stress test that doesn’t involve exercise. Several drugs can be safely used to mimic the effects of exercise or stress on the heart. This is known as a pharmacological stress imaging study.
Pharmacological stress testing is used only when an exercise stress test can’t be performed due to exercise-limiting problems, such as musculoskeletal problems or poor lung function, and when the resting electrocardiogram (ECG) has baseline abnormalities or is considered non-diagnostic.
A treadmill stress test provides information about your heart function during exercise. Because exercise makes your heart pump harder, faster and more vigorously than it does during most daily activities, the test may reveal problems within your heart that might not be noticeable otherwise.
If you can walk for more than five minutes on flat ground, or up one to two flights of stairs without needing to stop, you can most likely exercise enough to participate in a treadmill stress test.
An exercise stress test is preferable to one using drugs. Compared with a pharmacological stress imaging study, an exercise ECG stress test provides different information with which to assess the condition of your heart and cardiovascular system.
In addition, it provides healthcare providers with information on your exercise heart rate, rhythm or any abnormalities – as measured by an ECG.
It also enables healthcare providers to see if exercise reproduces any heart or lung symptoms, and how exercise affects other aspects of your cardiovascular system, such as blood pressure and blood flow.
It’s predictive of cardiac outcomes, and exercise duration is strongly associated with the risk of coronary events and death. Often, it doesn’t require any imaging, such as a cardiac nuclear scan, to be done in conjunction with the test, as the ECG tracings are often sufficiently informative.
Still, imaging studies are frequently performed with an exercise stress test, when needed. In addition, the drugs given to mimic exercise or stress can have side effects of their own.
If the treadmill is a barrier – perhaps because of balance issues or knee arthritis – then other forms of exercise can often be substituted. Exercise bikes are often available as alternatives to the treadmill. – Mayo Clinic News Network/Tribune News Service