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If you've ever had any heart problems, it's likely that your physician ordered a stress test for you. A cardiac stress test is often the first cardiovascular test used for diagnosing heart problems like arrhythmia and coronary artery disease. It's also useful to evaluate the success of a balloon angioplasty or bypass surgery.
Despite its name, the stress test is non-invasive and fairly basic. The point of the test is to challenge the heart, giving the physician the ability to notice conditions that may not be apparent when the heart is at rest. If your doctor is concerned about your risk for a heart attack, he may order a stress test to evaluate your heart's condition.
At the test itself, you will be hooked up to an electrocardiograph using several electrodes. The electrodes will communicate the electrical activity of your heart back to the electrocardiograph. Next, you will be asked to exercise on a machine, typically a treadmill, while the technician increases the speed and resistance. The technician will be monitoring your heart throughout the test and will also ask how you're feeling. If you feel any pain or are exhausted, ask that the procedure be stopped. The purpose of the stress test is simply to raise your heart rate to near maximum level, not to cause pain.