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Preparing for Your Cardiac Stress Test

How to prepare for your exercise stress test

What you can expect to feel

Taking an exercise stress test, whether it's a traditional stress test or a nuclear stress test, involves running or walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike. The test starts slowly and builds up in pace. Your heart rate will increase just like it does when you exercise normally. If you don't usually exercise, you might find the test challenging. If you have any unusual reactions, such as being out of breath, feeling faint, or having chest palpitations, tell the attending technician or your doctor immediately.

Overcoming anxiety

If you haven't been exercising lately, you may have some concerns about taking a stress test. It may help to know that the average exercise portion of a stress test takes 15 minutes or less, and it's not necessary to be in good shape to perform it. If anxiety keeps you from scheduling a stress test, remember that diagnosing and treating a heart condition can help protect your health. If you're having trouble overcoming any reluctance, talk to your doctor about how you feel.

The cost of an exercise stress test

The cost of a stress test can vary depending upon whether you have health insurance, and if so, how much your insurer will cover. Before your stress test, contact your health insurance company and ask what the cost will be to you.

If you are not covered by a health insurance plan, ask your doctor about whether financial assistance may be available to you.

Tips for preparing for your test

Talk to your doctor about any medications you take before the test. Ask if you should stop taking any of them or continue your usual routine, especially if you take medications for high blood pressure or diabetes. You should also do the following:

  • Ask your doctor what foods and drinks to avoid, if any, before the test.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and walking or running shoes.
  • Bring your inhalers if you use them for breathing.
  • Find out if you need someone to come along to drive you home after the test.

What not to eat or drink before your test

  • It's best not to eat or drink anything except water before a stress test. Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions or the stress lab's directions.
  • Ask your doctor if there are any specific foods or drinks you should avoid.

How to prepare for your nuclear stress test with a pharmacologic agent

What you can expect to feel

You'll probably feel the effects of a nuclear stress test using a pharmacologic agent quickly. You may feel warm or flushed with some mild chest pressure, pain, or shortness of breath. These reactions are common and will usually go away within a few minutes. Be sure to tell your medical team who administers the test if any of these feelings alarm you.

Overcoming anxiety

It's perfectly normal to feel apprehensive about a stress test using a pharmacologic agent if you haven't taken one before. It may help to remember that these tests have been performed on many people. A team of medical professionals will closely monitor you throughout the entire procedure.

The cost of a nuclear stress test with a pharmacologic agent

The cost of a nuclear stress test with a pharmacologic agent can vary depending upon whether you have health insurance, and if so, how much your insurer will cover. Before your stress test, contact your health insurance company and ask what the cost will be to you.

If you are not covered by a health insurance plan, ask your doctor about whether financial assistance may be available to you.

Tips for preparing for your test

  • Get complete instructions from your doctor, including a list of food, drinks, and any over-the-counter (OTC) medications to avoid before the test.
  • Ask your doctor how long before the test you should stop taking any prescription medications. Make sure you tell your doctor about all the medications you're taking including OTC drugs, herbal medications, and supplements.
  • Don't take any medication that contains caffeine. Caffeine will interfere with the pharmacologic agent and invalidate the test. Ask your pharmacist or doctor if you are not sure whether an OTC or prescription drug contains caffeine.
  • If you have diabetes and use insulin or oral diabetes medications, ask your doctor for specific instructions.
  • Be sure to tell (or remind) your doctor if you have asthma or any other breathing problems.
  • Tell your doctor if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.
  • If you have any questions or concerns, discuss them with your doctor.

What not to eat or drink before your test

Be sure to discuss with your doctor which food and drinks to avoid before the test. As a rule of thumb, you should not consume food, drinks, or medications that contain caffeine for at least 12 hours before the test. This includes decaffeinated products like coffee, tea, chocolate and cocoa products, soda—including those labeled "caffeine-free," diet supplements, and energy drinks.

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Lifestyle changes may help reduce your risk for CAD. Learn more about lifestyle changes that may help.