A stress echocardiogram is a noninvasive test that involves a special heart stimulating medication. It is used as a diagnostic test used to evaluate the strength of the heart muscle as it pumps blood throughout the body.
Using ultrasound imaging, the stress echocardiogram detects and records any decrease in blood flow to the heart caused by narrowing of the coronary arteries. The test, which takes place in a medical center or in the doctor’s office, is administered in two parts: resting and with exercise. In both cases, the patient’s blood pressure and heart rate are measured so that heart functioning at rest and during exercise can be compared.
Patients taking a stress echo test will have electrodes placed on the chest. Wires attach the electrodes to the electrocardiogram so that heart activity can be monitored during physical exertion. For patients who are unable to exercise due to disability or lung problems, the stress echo can be performed with dobutamine, a drug that increases the heart rate without exercise.
Reason for Stress Echo:
The test is administered to patients whose heart health is in question or to evaluate ongoing cardiac treatment. Patients are candidates for a stress echocardiogram if they have been having chest pains or angina or have recently had a heart attack. They may also have the test as a requirement prior to heart surgery or before beginning an exercise program. The stress echocardiogram measures:
- How well the heart muscle and valves are working
How well the heart handles exercise (stress)
Whether the patient is likely to have coronary artery disease
Whether the patient’s heart function has improved after treatment
Whether chambers of the heart are enlarged
Results of the stress echocardiogram are helpful to the cardiologist in determining whether there is a problem with heart muscle strength and what that problem might be. They also help determine an appropriate new course of treatment or evaluate a previous one.
How to prepare for a Stress Echo:
- You may not eat or drink for four hours prior to the test. Also, make sure not to consume caffeine after midnight.
- You may take your prescribed medications the morning of the test with a sip of water. Your doctor may ask you to stop taking some heart medications prior to the test. Be sure to ask your doctor how to adjust your insulin and food intake if you are diabetic. If you have any questions about your medications, ask your physician.
- Do not smoke for at least four hours prior to the test
- Do not apply lotions or powder to the chest area