Echo Stress Test

What is an Echo Stress Test?

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An echo stress test is a test that helps your physician diagnose whether or not you have coronary artery disease or if you are suspected to have a cardiac disease. An echo stress test involves exposing the patient's heart to the stress of exercise to reveal unequal dilation of arteries due to narrowed arteries caused by plaque buildup. When a normal healthy heart is exposed to exercise, the blood vessels dilate allowing a sufficient amount of blood flow to reach the working muscles. An unhealthy heart with blocked or narrowed arteries will have a reduced flow to involved muscles causing them to not get the required amount of oxygen. The muscle starvation may produce symptoms such as chest pain or severe shortness of breath.

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How and where is an Echo Stress Test performed?

A stress echo is usually done in your physician's office or a hospital. This test consists of three parts: a resting echo study, exercise portion, and stress echo study while the heart rate is still up.

The resting examination is completed first to present a baseline of the size and function of the chambers of the heart. An echocardiogram is performed along with an EKG and blood pressure reading.

The exercise portion of the test is then initiated using a treadmill. For patients who cannot exercise due to physical limitations are administered medication to simulate the effects of exercise. The patient is started off at a warm-up speed and is increased about every 3 minutes. When the patient's target heart rate exceeds about 85% the treadmill is stopped. The test may be stopped early if the patient is experiencing symptoms of distress such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, weakness, etc. An EKG is persistently being monitored as well as the patient's blood pressure. If the patient's heart rate happens to become dangerously irregular or his or her blood pressure elevates or drops to an unsafe level, exercise will be stopped. These problems are uncommon but if they do occur the patient is in a safe environment because our medical team is highly trained and experienced for any circumstance that may happen.

Directly after the exercise portion the patient is moved back to the examination table to repeat the echo assessment while the heart rate is still elevated. These images are stored and then compared to the resting echo side-by-side. Your physician analyzes the differences between the two looking for any indications of heart disease.

How long does an Echo Stress Test take?

On average it takes about an hour and a half to two hours to complete the entire test including preparation.

When do I get my test results?

Your physician will put together a final report that can take a few days to complete. The results will help confirm or rule out if the patient has heart disease. This study will also show if the patient has any blockages forming and if he or she is in a stable condition. According to results, sometimes physicians will recommend further testing such as a cardiac catheterization or possibly change treatment options. Test results are usually reviewed with the patient during a follow up visit with his or her doctor, over the phone, or sent to patient through mail. In some cases, physicians will contact their patient if any significant abnormal findings are found. If you are concerned or confused about the results, don't hesitate to call our office staff. They can usually clarify any questions you may have. 

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