While a regular echocardiogram provides cardiologists with a picture of the heart at rest, the stress echo goes one step further and gives cardiologists a picture of the heart after a patient has been exercising on a treadmill or stationary bike for approximately 10 minutes.
By comparing a stress echo to an at-rest echo, the cardiologist may catch problems that surface only when the heart is under strain. Roughly 95 percent of stress echos are performed to look for evidence of blocked arteries in patients who are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath or palpitations. A stress echo can help a doctor discover if:
Patients taking a stress echo test will have electrodes placed on the chest. Wires attach the electrodes to the electrocardiogram so that heart activity can be monitored during physical exertion. For patients who are unable to exercise due to disability or lung problems, the stress echo can be performed with dobutamine, a drug that increases the heart rate without exercise.
A blood pressure cuff will also be used to measure blood pressure during the physical activity. Immediately after exercise, a sonographer, who took pictures of the patient's heart during rest, will once again obtain ultrasound photos of the heart to provide doctors with images to use for comparison.