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Who Needs Stress Testing?

You may need stress testing if you've had chest pains, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of limited blood flow to your heart.

Imaging stress tests, especially, can show whether you have coronary heart disease (CHD) or a heart valve problem. (Heart valves are like doors; they open and shut to let blood flow between the heart's chambers and into the heart's arteries. So, like CHD, faulty heart valves can limit the amount of blood reaching your heart.)

If you've been diagnosed with CHD or recently had a heart attack, a stress test can show whether you can handle an exercise program. If you've had percutaneous coronary intervention, also known as coronary angioplasty, (with or without stent placement) or coronary artery bypass grafting, a stress test can show how well the treatment relieves your CHD symptoms.

You also may need a stress test if, during exercise, you feel faint, have a rapid heartbeat or a fluttering feeling in your chest, or have other symptoms of an arrhythmia (an irregular heartbeat).

If you don't have chest pain when you exercise but still get short of breath, your doctor may recommend a stress test. The test can help show whether a heart problem, rather than a lung problem or being out of shape, is causing your breathing problems.

For such testing, you breathe into a special tube. This allows a technician to measure the gases you breathe out. Breathing into the tube during stress testing also is done before a heart transplant to help assess whether you're a candidate for the surgery.

Stress testing shouldn’t be used as a routine screening test for CHD. Usually, you have to have symptoms of CHD before a doctor will recommend stress testing.

However, your doctor may want to use a stress test to screen for CHD if you have diabetes. This disease increases your risk of CHD. Currently, though, no evidence shows that having a stress test will improve your outcome if you have diabetes.

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Last Updated: December 14, 2011