Going for a stress test? Here are 6 things to avoid

A stress test is a medical examination used to evaluate how the heart functions when it is under physical stress. It helps diagnose various heart conditions and assess the risk of heart disease. You may need a stress test if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat or have a high risk for heart disease. There are various types of stress tests, and before taking them, you need to avoid a few things. Read on to know what to avoid before taking a stress test.

What is a stress test?

A stress test measures how well your heart works when it is made to work harder, such as during exercise. It is commonly used to detect coronary artery disease, arrhythmias, and other heart-related issues, says cardiologist Dr Abhijit Borse. By monitoring the heart’s activity under stress, doctors can identify problems such as poor blood flow, and abnormal rhythm.

Stethoscope and a heart for a stress test
There are different types of stress tests to know all about your heart health. Image courtesy: Freepik

What are the types of stress tests?

There are various types of stress tests:

1. Exercise stress test

It is to assess the heart’s response to physical exertion. You will be asked to exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike while your heart rate, blood pressure, and electrocardiogram (ECG) readings get monitored.

2. Nuclear stress test

The purpose of this test is to visualise blood flow to the heart muscle during rest and stress. A small amount of radioactive substance will be injected into the bloodstream. Images will be taken using a gamma camera to see how blood flows to the heart.

3. Stress echocardiogram

This will help to evaluate the heart’s function and structures. An ultrasound of the heart will be performed before and after exercise to observe the heart’s movement and function, says the expert.

4. Pharmacologic stress test

It will be used if you are unable to exercise. Medication will be given to simulate the effects of exercise on the heart, followed by imaging techniques like echocardiography or nuclear imaging.

Who needs a stress test?

You should go for a stress test if:

  • You experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or unexplained fatigue
  • You have risk factors like hypertension, diabetes, high cholesterol, or a family history of heart disease
  • You are a post-heart attack patient
  • You are starting a new exercise programme, especially if you are over 40 or have risk factors for heart disease.

What to avoid before a stress test?

Before getting certain blood tests, you may be told to skip meals. Similarly, there are a few things to avoid before a stress test:

1. Caffeine

Drinking coffee or tea may be the first thing you do every morning. But before a stress test, avoid caffeine for at least 24 hours, as it can affect the heart rate and blood pressure, says the expert.

2. Smoking

Refrain from smoking on the day of the stress test. All tobacco products, including cigarettes, contain nicotine, which can increase your heart rate and affect the result of the stress test.

woman breaking a cigarette before a stress test
Nicotine can increase your heart rate. Image courtesy: Adobe stock

3. Eating

You should not eat or drink at least three hours before your stress test, as per a research published in StatPearls in 2023. This is because after eating or drinking juice or water, you may not be able to do exercise, or may end up vomiting.

4. Certain medications

Some medications can affect heart rate and test outcomes. Medicines like beta blockers are used to control the heart rate, but they can affect the stress test results, as the target heart rate does not get achieved.

5. Alcohol

High consumption of alcohol is not good for your heart. But you should not have even a small amount of alcohol before a stress test. You should avoid drinking alcohol at least 24 hours prior to the test. Just like caffeine, alcohol can also affect the heart rate and blood pressure, says Dr Borse.

6. Strenuous exercise

If you do strenuous or high-intensity exercise every day then you need to take a break so that the stress test results are not affected. Avoid any intense physical activity before the stress test, as it may affect the heart rate and test results.

Stress tests are diagnostic tools that help evaluate heart health under stress conditions. So, you need to understand the types, purposes, and preparation guidelines for accurate results.

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