Get exclusive member benefits & effect social change. Join Today
A stress echocardiography, also called an echocardiography stress test or stress echo, is a procedure that determines how well your heart and blood vessels are working.
During a stress echocardiography, you’ll exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike while your doctor monitors your blood pressure and heart rhythm. When your heart rate reaches peak levels, your doctor will take ultrasound images of your heart to determine whether your heart muscles are getting enough blood and oxygen while you exercise.
Your doctor may order a stress echocardiography test if you have chest pain that they think is due to coronary artery disease or a myocardial infarction, which is a heart attack. This test also determines how much exercise you can safely tolerate if you’re in cardiac rehabilitation. The test can also tell your doctor how well treatments such as bypass grafting, angioplasty, and anti-anginal or antiarrhythmic medications are working.
This test is safe and noninvasive. Complications are rare, but can include:
This test usually occurs in an echocardiography laboratory, or echo lab, but it can also occur in your doctor’s office or other medical setting. It normally takes between 45 and 60 minutes.
Before you take the test, you should do the following:
Your doctor needs to see how your heart functions while you’re at rest to get an accurate idea of how it’s working. Your doctor begins by placing 10 small, sticky patches called electrodes on your chest. The electrodes connect to an electrocardiograph (ECG).
The ECG measures your heart’s electrical activity, especially the rate and regularity of your heartbeats. You’ll likely have your blood pressure taken throughout the test as well.
Next, you’ll lie on your side, and your doctor will do a resting echocardiogram, or ultrasound, of your heart. They’ll apply a special gel to your skin and then use a device called a transducer. This device emits sound waves to create images of your heart’s movement and internal structures.
After the resting echocardiogram, your doctor next has you exercise on a treadmill or stationary bicycle. Depending on your physical condition, your doctor may ask you to increase the intensity of your exercise. You’ll probably need to exercise for 6 to 10 minutes, or until you feel tired, to raise your heart rate as much as possible.
Tell your doctor right away if you feel dizzy or weak, or if you have chest pain or pain on your left side.
As soon as your doctor tells you to stop exercising, they perform another ultrasound. This is to take more images of your heart working under stress. You then have time to cool down. You can walk around slowly so that your heart rate can return to normal. Your doctor monitors your ECG, heart rate, and blood pressure until the levels return to normal.
The echocardiography stress test is very reliable. Your doctor will explain your test results to you. If the results are normal, your heart is working properly and your blood vessels are probably not blocked due to coronary artery disease.
Abnormal test results may mean that your heart isn’t pumping blood effectively because there’s a blockage in your blood vessels. Another reason could be that a heart attack damaged your heart.
Diagnosing coronary artery disease and assessing your risk for heart attacks early on can help prevent future complications. This test can also help determine if your current cardiac rehabilitation plan is working for you.
Written by: Tricia Kinman
Medically reviewed on: May 26, 2017: Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COI
Enter your symptoms in our Symptom Checker to find out possible causes of your symptoms. Go.
Enter any list of prescription drugs and see how they interact with each other and with other substances. Go.
Enter its color and shape information, and this tool helps you identify it. Go.
Find information on drug interactions, side effects, and more. Go.