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What is a stress test?

nurse with patient during heart stress test (electrocardiogram)

A stress test, also called a cardiac stress test, shows how exercise affects your heart. A stress test determines how much exercise your heart can tolerate before having a problem. Doctors use stress tests to diagnose and monitor coronary artery disease, cardiac ischemia (not enough blood flow to the heart muscle), cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heartbeats), and other types of heart disease.

A stress test is only one method to monitor and diagnose heart conditions. Discuss all of your testing options with your doctor to understand which options are right for you.  

Types of stress tests

The types of stress tests include:

  • Standard or regular stress test (exercise stress test or treadmill test) involves walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bicycle. If you cannot exercise due to a medical condition, your doctor may give you a medication called dobutamine to make you heart work as hard as it would during exercise. This is called a pharmacological or dobutamine stress test.

  • Nuclear stress test involves using an IV radioactive dye and taking pictures of your heart during a stress test. Nuclear stress tests include a thallium stress test, sestamibi (Cardiolite) stress test, and PET (positron emission tomography) stress test.

  • Stress echocardiogram uses sound waves to take moving pictures of your heart during a stress test.

Medical Reviewers: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS Last Review Date: Sep 4, 2016

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View Sources

Medical References

  1. Electrocardiogram (ECG). Bupa.
  2. EKG or Electrocardiogram.
  3. ECG library. ecglibrarycom.
  4. Treadmill Stress Test.
  5. Types of Stress Testing. National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
  6. What Is an Electrocardiogram? National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
  7. What is a Stress Test? American Heart Association.

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