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UT Southwestern Medical Center offers a number of cardiac stress tests that help our heart experts evaluate patients’ cardiovascular health during exercise. 

After experienced laboratory technicians perform stress testing, our skilled cardiologists interpret the results and use them to inform personalized patient care.  

Heart Health Evaluated During Exercise

A stress test is a type of electrophysiology study to assess blood flow to the heart and measure cardiac function during exertion. Patients typically walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bicycle to complete the test, which usually takes 30 to 60 minutes.

Stress testing detects:

  • Signs of inadequate blood flow to heart muscle with exercise, which suggests a blockage in one of the blood vessels that supplies the heart muscle (coronary arteries)
  • Strength and blood-pumping efficiency of the heart muscle
  • Heart rate, blood pressure, and heart rhythm during exercise
  • Cardiac fitness level compared to others the same age

UT Southwestern’s experienced cardiologists use stress testing to carefully diagnose and guide the treatment of a variety of heart disorders. 

Types of Cardiac Stress Tests

UT Southwestern offers several types of cardiac stress tests, such as: 

Electrocardiogram Stress Test

An electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) stress test uses small adhesive electrode patches that are placed on the chest and connected to an ECG recording device to measure heart function during exercise. 

Patient blood pressure is recorded before, during, and after the test, which usually takes 30 to 60 minutes. During the test, patients are asked to slowly and gradually increase their walking or pedaling pace until it becomes uncomfortable to continue. 

Echocardiogram Stress Test

An echocardiogram (echo or cardiac ultrasound) stress test also involves using small adhesive patches placed on the chest and connected to an ECG device. 

In addition to recording the ECG data, the sonographer takes ultrasound pictures of the heart before and after exercise to examine the heart’s response. 

Patients unable to exercise can instead receive an intravenous drug that mimics the effects of exercise on the heart. Dobutamine, which increases heart rate and blood pressure, and regadenoson, which dilates blood vessels, are commonly used. 

This test detects whether the blood flowing to the heart muscle through the coronary arteries is adequate or if there could be blockages limiting blood flow. 

The examiner uses a hand-held device to record images as the heart rate increases. This test normally takes one to three hours.

Nuclear Medicine Stress Test

Nuclear medicine stress tests supply additional information about the heart and coronary arteries.

Patients are asked to reach a maximum level of exercise and are then injected with a small amount of a radioactive agent that enters the bloodstream. Images of the heart are taken immediately after the exercise test to show blood flow during stress test conditions. 

Several hours later, another series of images is taken to show blood flow in a resting state. The test delivers detailed images that can be used to determine the amount of coronary artery blockage, as well as the effectiveness of any previous treatments performed to improve coronary artery blood flow.

Support Services

UT Southwestern’s cardiac rehabilitation specialists create customized plans that integrate proper nutrition, exercise, and, if necessary, nicotine cessation into patients’ lifestyles to improve their cardiovascular health.

Clinical Trials

As one of the nation’s top academic medical centers, UT Southwestern offers a number of clinical trials aimed at improving the outcomes of patients with cardiovascular disease. 

Clinical trials often give patients access to leading-edge treatments that are not yet widely available. Eligible patients who choose to participate in one of UT Southwestern’s clinical trials might receive treatments years before they are available to the public.