Stress echocardiography

What is Stress Echocardiography?

Stress echocardiography (also known as stress echo or cardiac stress testing) is a procedure used to evaluate the function of your heart when it is under stress, such as during physical activity. During a stress echocardiography, sound waves are used to create real-time images of your heart while it is under strain. These images can be used to diagnose any underlying heart problems, such as the presence of coronary artery disease (CAD).

Purpose of Stress Echocardiography

Stress echocardiography can help your doctor diagnose the cause of chest pain and determine if it is caused by blocked arteries due to CAD. It is also used to evaluate how well your heart functions during physical activity and to determine if a stent or surgery is necessary to improve your heart health.

Preparation for Stress Echocardiography

Your doctor will provide general instructions for the stress echocardiography test, which can include abstaining from eating and drinking after midnight the night before the test. You may also be advised to not take any medications, such as decongestants, that could affect the results of the test. Additionally, wear comfortable clothes and sneakers that are easy to move around in.

Procedure of Stress Echocardiography

The procedure for a stress echocardiography usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes. Depending on your age and fitness level, you may either walk on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bicycle while the test is being performed. During the procedure, a technician or nurse will apply sticky electrodes to your chest, arms and legs in order to measure and monitor your heart rate and rhythm. The technician will also place a small ultrasound probe or transducer near your chest or abdomen in order to acquire images of your heart.

Types of Stress Echocardiography

There are two main types of stress echocardiography available:

  • Exercise echocardiography – This type of test requires you to exercise on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. You may be asked to stop exercising if your heart rate reaches a preset level.
  • Pharmacologic echocardiography– This type of test requires an injection of a drug, such as dobutamine, to increase your heart rate without physical activity. You may be asked to stop the procedure if your heart rate reaches a preset level.

Risks of Stress Echocardiography

Stress echocardiography is generally considered safe, but there are a few risks to be aware of:

  • Fainting or dizziness
  • Breathing difficulty
  • Pain or chest discomfort
  • Irregular or abnormal heart rhythms
  • Heart attack or death, although this is very rare

Why Stress Echocardiography Is Performed

Stress echocardiography is used to diagnose and assess the severity of CAD. It is an important diagnostic tool in helping your doctor determine if you are at risk for further heart problems, such as a heart attack, or if you need to undergo a procedure such as angioplasty (to open narrowed arteries) or bypass surgery (to replace a section of blocked artery).

When Stress Echocardiography Is Performed

Stress echocardiography is typically recommended if you are experiencing chest pain and your doctor suspects that it is related to blocked arteries. It can also be recommended if you have a history of CAD or a history of heart disease and your doctor wants to monitor the progression and treatment of the condition.