Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women, according to the American Heart Association. While cancer is an important threat to women’s health, twice as many women in the United States die of cardiovascular diseases than they do of cancer. Stress tests can provide valuable information regarding the health of your heart.
Stress tests are medical exams that measure the effect of exercise on your heart. Your doctor may use this type of test to evaluate your cardiovascular health and your risk of developing coronary artery disease. Common reasons for performing a stress test include heart attack, angina, chest pain, angioplasty and changes in your heart rhythm. If you have a chronic disease, such as diabetes or heart disease, your doctor may require this test prior to permitting you to start an exercise program.
Standard stress test use an ECG machine to measure the electrical activity in your heart while you exert yourself through exercise, such as riding a stationary bike or walking on a treadmill. A blood pressure cuff helps to measure your cardiovascular response. Depending on your health and circumstances, your doctor may use an injected contrast dye to provide clear images of your heart.
Depending on your specific type of stress test, you may need to refrain from eating or drinking for about two to four hours prior to your stress test. Your doctor may advise you to stop taking medications until after the test. Dress in loose, comfortable clothing and avoid using any lotions or creams on your chest skin.
Electrodes placed on your chest help to measure your heart’s activity. These conductive patches may cause slight stinging or burning. During your stress test, a blood pressure cuff periodically inflates while you walk on your treadmill or pedal your stationary bike. Your attending technician will increase the difficulty of your exercise gradually as your test progresses. Although rare, you may experience chest discomfort, dizziness or palpitations during your procedure.
If your results show that your heart rate increases in proportion to your effort and attains the appropriate levels for your age and condition, your results are normal. However, abnormal results can indicate the possibility of coronary artery disease, arrhythmias or lack of aerobic fitness. Young and middle-aged women who have symptoms untypical of heart disease may have less than accurate results, according to MedlinePlus. Obesity and large breasts may also contribute to inaccurate results.