A chemical stress test is used to determine whether or not the heart is getting enough blood flow during exercise. Regular stress tests are generally done on a treadmill. The patient walks on the treadmill and the speed and incline is slowly increased to see how the heart performs as the exercise difficulty increases. Occasionally a stationary bike may be used in place of a treadmill.
What is a chemical stress test?
A chemical stress test for the heart is used mainly for elderly people or those for whom walking on a treadmill would be too difficult. This could be due to age or another health issue that impacts the ability to walk, like arthritis, a history of stroke, or respiratory issues like COPD.
How is a Chemical Stress Test Done?
Instead of using a treadmill, a chemical is injected into the body that causes the heart to react as though you are exercising strenuously. The body’s need for oxygenated blood increases during exercise, so the heart has to work harder to supply that blood.
A chemical stress test of the heart can show things like:
How well the heart works when it has to pump harder
If there is a blockage in the coronary artery
If the heart valves are working effectively
If there is an abnormal heart rhythm
A chemical stress test for elderly people is important as it can help diagnose problems like heart disease, coronary artery disease, heart valve disease, and arrhythmias.
What is a Nuclear Stress Test?
A nuclear stress test is a bit different from a regular or chemical stress test. In this version, a tiny amount of radioactive material is injected into the bloodstream using an IV. Then, during the stress test, imaging equipment takes pictures of how that material moves through the heart. The word radioactive is a bit scary and can lead one to wonder, “Is a nuclear stress test safe for the elderly?” Yes, the amount of radioactivity a person is exposed to during a nuclear stress test is the same amount as a chest x-ray and is no cause for concern.
Download Our Heart Health Guide
Is a Stress Test Dangerous to the Elderly?
A stress test is very safe. During the stress test your heart is extensively monitored by experienced technicians. If there is any indication continuing to exercise would be dangerous in any way, the test is stopped. There has never been a report of anyone experiencing any sort of allergic reaction to the chemical injected during the test.
Stress Test Results
Stress test results can be a bit complicated. Sometimes your stress test result will simply be positive (ie, no problems) or negative (ie, there may be a problem). In general, your doctor is looking for certain reactions to your heart rate rising. For example, do you have chest pain while exercising? Does your blood pressure go up too high? Does the EKG show that your heart is not getting enough oxygen? The answers to these and other questions will help your doctor determine the results of your stress test.