Understanding Stress Electrocardiograms

The stress electrocardiogram, or stress ECG, exercise tolerance test or treadmill test, is simply an ECG done while you are exercising. It can identify coronary artery disease in nearly three out of four of those who have it and almost always detects disease when it is severe. And it is 90 percent accurate in identifying those who don’t have coronary artery disease.

Who Needs It

The stress ECG is an important test to take before you begin a program of vigorous exercise – especially if you are over 40 – or if you have a family or personal history of heart disease, diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure or if you smoke.

How It’s Done

The stress ECG may be done on a treadmill or stationary bike, and takes about half an hour. As in a resting ECG, electrodes are placed on various parts of your chest and a blood pressure cuff is placed on your arm. As you begin a progressively more demanding workout on the treadmill or bike, the physician monitoring the test measures your heart rate, blood pressure and electrocardiographic tracings. He or she also watches you for symptoms of heart disease.

Using the Results

If your heart shows signs of heart disease, your doctor can use the data to help you establish exercise limits and develop an exercise program that is safe for you. The doctor may also recommend further testing if there are any abnormal electrocardiographic tracings.

Taking Care of Your Heart

Always get a thorough physical exam, including a stress ECG if your doctor feels it is appropriate, before beginning a strenuous exercise program. Working with your doctor and nutritionist to develop a program of exercise and good eating habits is the best way to keep your heart in peak condition.

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