Stress echocardiography is a test that uses ultrasound imaging to show how well your heart muscle is working to pump blood to your body. It is mainly used to detect a decrease in blood flow to the heart from narrowing in the coronary arteries.
How the Test is Performed
This test is done at a medical center or health care provider’s office.
A resting echocardiogram will be done first. While you lie on your left side with your left arm out, a small device called a transducer is held against your chest. A special gel is used to help the ultrasound waves get to your heart.
Most people will walk on a treadmill (or pedal on an exercise bicycle). Slowly (about every 3 minutes), you will be asked to walk (or pedal) faster and on an incline. It is like being asked to walk fast or jog up a hill.
In most cases, you will need to walk or pedal for around 5 to 15 minutes, depending on your level of fitness and your age. Your doctor will ask you to stop:
- When your heart is beating at the target rate
- When you are too tired to continue
- If you are having chest pain or a change in your blood pressure that worries the provider administering the test
If you are not able to exercise, you will get a drug such as dobutamine through a vein (intravenous line). This medicine will make your heart beat faster and harder, similar to when you exercise.
Your blood pressure and heart rhythm (ECG) will be monitored throughout the procedure.
More echocardiogram images will be taken while your heart rate is increasing, or when it reaches its peak. The images will show whether any parts of the heart muscle do not work as well when your heart rate increases. This is a sign that part of the heart may not be getting enough blood or oxygen because of narrowed or blocked arteries.
How to Prepare for the Test. Your instruction sheet will tell you if you should take any of your routine medicines on the day of the test. Some medicines may interfere with test results. Never stop taking any medicine without first talking to your doctor.
DO NOT eat or drink for at least 3 hours before the test.
Wear loose, comfortable clothing. You will be asked to sign a consent form before the test.
How the Test will Feel
Electrodes (conductive patches) will be placed on your chest, arms, and legs to record the heart’s activity.
The blood pressure cuff on your arm will be inflated every few minutes, producing a squeezing sensation that may feel tight.
Rarely, people feel chest discomfort, extra or skipped heartbeats, dizziness, headache, nausea or shortness of breath during the test.
Why the Test is Performed
The test is performed to see whether your heart muscle is getting enough blood flow and oxygen when it is working hard (under stress).
Your doctor may order this test if you:
- Have new symptoms of angina or chest pain
- Have angina that is getting worse
- Have recently had a heart attack
- Are going to have surgery or begin an exercise program, if you are at high risk for heart disease
- Have heart valve problems
The results of this stress test can help your doctor:
- Determine how well a heart treatment is working and change your treatment, if needed
- Determine how well your heart is pumping
- Diagnose coronary artery disease
- See whether your heart is too large