How to Prepare for Your First Stress Test

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How to Prepare for Your First Stress Test

An exercise stress test gathers crucial information about your heart and its response while working at its hardest levels. You’ll typically use a treadmill or exercise bike while connected to electrocardiogram (EKG) equipment.

Stress tests have a variety of applications, each designed to assess the condition and capabilities of your heart. Most often, it’s used as a diagnostic tool for heart health or to rule out your heart as the cause of particular symptoms. In other cases, your stress test may assist in the development of exercise programs or clear you for sports participation. 

When resting, your heart’s performance may be unremarkable, meeting your body’s needs without issue. Stress testing tells a different story about how your heart works under the demands of a heavy load. Things like abnormal heartbeats, chest pain, and breathing difficulties may emerge under controlled conditions to diagnose a condition or point to the need for additional testing. 

At ARK Cardiovascular & Arrhythmia Center, we use stress testing daily to assess the heart performance of our patients. A frequent point of concern for patients is how to correctly prepare for a stress test to ensure the most accurate results. There are some small points that can make a big difference in your test results. We’ve prepared this primer on how to prepare for your first stress test. 

What to expect from the stress test process

While stress test preparations may vary between patients, the general procedure follows a predictable pattern which we will fine-tune to your circumstances if necessary. 

The day before

Don’t consume any foods or beverages with caffeine in the 12 hours preceding your stress test. 

The day of the test

Don’t consume any food or drink except water in the four hours before your test.

Before scheduling your test, we will review the medications you take regularly. We will inform you which medications to avoid on the the day of your test and which are okay for you to take. Usually, you’ll stop taking any heart medications. Don’t skip any medicine unless we specifically direct you. If you’re not sure about other medications, just ask. 

If you use an inhaler for breathing issues, bring it in case it’s necessary during or after the test. It’s also okay to bring a light snack to eat after your test is over. Dress comfortably in loose clothing and supportive walking shoes. 

While you may be nervous about your first stress test, there’s little to worry about. Excess anxiety may affect your test results, so do your best to relax. 

The test itself

The EKG electrodes are placed on your chest and connected to a monitor. These report the patterns of electrical activity your heart creates during the test. We will read your resting heart rate and take your blood pressure. 

The exercise portion of a basic stress test lasts about 10 to 15 minutes, with intensity increasing until you reach a point of exhaustion. There’s no point where you “win” or cross the finish line. The test continues until you’re too tired to continue. 

We’ll ask how you feel throughout the exercise portion. Let us know if you feel: 

  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Discomfort or pain in your chest or arms
  • Feelings of fainting or lightheadedness
  • Any other unusual sensations

We’re looking for unusual events. The test increases your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate. That’s normal and expected. Let us know if you feel something that’s not expected from the effects of normal exertion. We will inform you if the EKG indicates it’s time to stop. You’ll have a short cool-down period until your monitored levels begin their return to normal.  

Patients unable to exercise can be given a drug that simulates the effects of exercise to measure their heart performance safely. 

You can book appointments by phone or online if needed. We’re standing by and ready to help, so contact us today if you have questions about your upcoming stress test.