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Posted on in Heart Health

Cardiac Stress Test. You May Need One.

Medically reviewed by Dr. Amit Pande

If you have ever run on a treadmill at your fitness center, you’ll have a good idea of your role in a cardiac stress test.

A STRESS TEST - DESCRIBED. A person is put on a treadmill (or a stationary bike).  Sticky patches with electrodes are attached to your chest to monitor your heart’s electrical activity. A cuff is wrapped around one arm to monitor blood pressure. You’ll be asked to start walking.  As the test proceeds, the treadmill speed can be increased and the incline elevated, like walking up a steeper hill. The medical professional administering the test will want you to keep exercising until you reach a target heart rate -- or feel chest pain, become dizzy, become too out of breath to continue or develop abnormally high or low blood pressure.

It usually lasts 10-15 minutes.  However, if the exercise becomes too much, you can ask at any time to stop. 

“The Cardiac Stress Test enables us to look for abnormal changes in your heart rate or blood pressure,” says McLeod Cardiologist Amit Pande, MD. “There’s no more risk than if you walked fast or jogged up a hill.  The results may lead us to recommend further tests.”


You may need a heart stress test, if you have:

  • Shortness of breath, during exercise but no chest pain. 
  • Chest pains (If they pains are severe, call 911.  Have an ambulance immediately take you to the Emergency Room).
  • A high risk of heart disease.  A Stress Test every two years may be appropriate when asymptomatic (without symptoms). Exercise stress test or exercise nuclear stress test may be appropriate based on your risk level. 
  • Your first full physical exam after age 50.  (If no problems are found, you shouldn’t need another stress test unless you develop the symptoms mentioned above.)
  • A stent that was inserted more than two years ago.
  • A heart bypass procedure more than five years ago.
  • Diabetes, because this disease increases the risk of Coronary Heart Disease.


Patients who have an existing medical reason preventing them from taking the treadmill test can be given medication that makes the heart work hard.  


In addition to the normal heart stress test, the cardiologist may also conduct a radioactive stress test. It’s also called a radionuclide test, thallium stress test, or myocardial perfusion scan.  Specialists use this test to look inside the heart blood flow and determine whether the heart muscle is receiving enough blood.

Pictures will be taken when your heart is at rest; then, again when it’s working hard.  A radioactive dye will be injected to make the heart, heart chambers and blood vessels show up better on the scans, this dye does not affect kidney function. You should experience no side effects, because the level of radioactivity is low.

FINAL THOUGHT.  Don’t try to tough it out if you are experiencing symptoms.  Schedule an appointment with a cardiologist to determine what the most useful and appropriate next step is for you.

Find a Cardiologist near you

Sources include:  McLeod Health, United States Preventive Services Task Force, National Institutes of Health,, British Heart Foundation, American Heart Association


The information on this site is intended to increase your awareness and understanding of specific health issues and
services at McLeod Health. It should not be used for diagnosis or as a substitute for health care by your physician.
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