A stress echocardiogram is a test that allows your healthcare provider to see how your heart muscle works when you are resting and when your heart is stressed. The heart can be stressed with exercise. It can also be stressed with drugs that increase the heart rate or change the way blood flows through the coronary arteries.
Images of the beating heart are made by bouncing high-frequency sound waves (ultrasound) off the heart. A computer uses the echoes of the sound waves to create a moving picture of the heart. All parts of the heart, including the heart muscle and heart valves, can be carefully examined.
Many people with heart problems have no symptoms when they are resting. Stressing the heart causes changes that can be seen on the echocardiogram. Stress echocardiograms help your healthcare provider know if you need more tests and treatment.
Usually no preparation is necessary. Your healthcare provider may ask you not to eat or drink anything for about 2 hours before the test. Ask your provider if you should avoid taking any medicines on the day of the test.
The test lasts 30 to 60 minutes. It can be done in your healthcare provider's office, a clinic, or hospital.
A small needle may be placed in a vein in your arm. The electrical activity of your heart will be recorded with an electrocardiogram (ECG). Your healthcare provider or a technologist will also watch your blood pressure while the echocardiogram is being done.
Your healthcare provider may ask you to walk on a treadmill for the echocardiogram. Or medicine may be used instead of exercise to produce stress for your heart. Medicine may be used instead of exercise if you have a physical problem that keeps you from doing the exercise.
When medicine is used to make your heart beat faster, the medicine is slowly dripped into your vein. The amount of medicine is increased every 3 minutes until a target heart rate, based on your age, is reached. When you reach the target heart rate or when your healthcare provider decides you have had enough of the medicine, the medicine is stopped and a final echocardiogram is recorded.
After the test, you can go home and go back to your usual activities. Your healthcare provider will review the pictures, watching each part of the heart's muscle during the heartbeat. Ask your provider how and when you should expect to hear your test results.
A stress echocardiogram can show heart disease or problems with the heart valves. This test can be a more accurate way to diagnose blockage in the arteries than a standard exercise stress test. Your healthcare provider may use this information to decide what treatment or other tests you may need.
Rarely, an abnormal heart rhythm may occur during the test. Even more rarely, the heart might stop beating. To ensure your safety, your healthcare provider will supervise the test. Your blood pressure and ECG will be watched carefully. The test team will watch for and be able to treat emergencies if they happen.
Minor side effects from the medicine used to stress the heart are common. Examples of possible side effects are chest pain, low blood pressure, or nausea. The medicine may cause or worsen irregular heart rhythms. Your healthcare provider and the test team are aware of these potential problems and can treat them if they happen.
Call your provider during office hours if: