You may remember an episode of The Cosby Show where Cliff Huxtable went to have a stress test. Since it was a comedy show, Mr. Cosby made the experience of having a stress test seem like it could be a lot of fun. An old friend was the doctor in charge of the treadmill stress testing so they joked and teased each other. When the treadmill was going at a relaxed pace, Cliff Huxtable danced around. Once it got faster, he had to work a lot harder to stay on the treadmill but when they told him that an older man had stayed on for quite some time, he made a pretense of running.
While it is good to have a sense of humor about these things, you should know that stress tests are used to screen people with a high risk for heart problems. This includes patients who have been diagnosed with heart disease, chest pain or shortness of breath and those who have already suffered a heart attack. Some people also have this test before they start an exercise regimen to see how their heart will hold up with the extra effort needed for physical activity.
Stress tests are performed by walking on a treadmill at a progressively inclining grade and rate of speed until your heart reaches 85% of the predicted minimum rate and/or until your perceived exertion is greater than your usual activity levels, or until the test shows significant abnormalities. It usually lasts from 30 to 45 minutes.
While the word "stress" is in the test's name, you should not become stressed if your doctor thinks you need to have this test. It is important to know how well your heart is functioning and this test can provide your physician with that information.
Photo credit: Mr. T in DC