A stress test—also called a heart test, a cardiovascular exercise stress test, or cardiac stress test—is a cardiology procedure that checks how well your heart functions while you're at rest and during physical activity. An echocardiogram is a key part of this procedure.
Echocardiography, or an echo, is a type of ultrasound imaging of the heart that uses high-pitched sound waves to produce clear pictures of your heart muscles and chambers. That information helps your doctor estimate the pumping function of your heart and identify any problems with your valves or chambers.
Your physician may recommend stress testing to evaluate symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath, that may be caused by reduced blood flow to your heart muscle. They may also use a stress test to diagnose or monitor coronary artery disease and determine how well treatments are working. A stress test also can provide information about how well your heart functions after a heart attack, before and after heart surgery, or during or after treatment for congestive heart failure.
How the Test Works
Echocardiography requires you to lie on your left side on an examination table while the gel is spread over your chest. A transducer is rolled over the gel. The transducer sends inaudible sound waves reflecting off structures in your heart, which are then recorded by computer sensors and converted into moving images on a monitor. The technician will take measurements during the exam from different angles to assess blood flow across the valves and chambers in your heart. Spaces show up as black areas without echoes. No anesthesia is used during the exam, and you likely will feel nothing except possible discomfort from having to remain still for long periods.
Stress testing involves exercise. You will be asked to walk on a treadmill at gradually increasing speeds while connected to an electrocardiogram machine (EKG) that monitors your heartbeat. During the process, the technician monitoring you will check how well your heart works by comparing images produced during echocardiography and the EKG test.
The technician will take more pictures of your heart at rest when the exercise portion is complete. The entire process usually takes just a few hours. However, additional cardiac testing may be recommended if abnormal signs are noted during the stress testing process.
Echocardiography plays an important role in determining how well your heart functions both at rest and during physical activity as part of stress testing.
Contact a local cardiology office, such as Alpert Zales & Castro Pediatric Cardiology, to learn more.