It’s very likely that you have heard the term “stress test” at some point in your life and wondered what this type of test is used for. What kind of stress can be detected through a diagnostic test? Are these tests used to identify everyday stress, or a different type of stress that could affect your body?
Keep reading to learn whether stress tests exist and what they’re used for at STDWatch.com.
Does a stress test exist?
Well, yes and no. There are different procedures that are called “stress tests”, but contrary to what you may be thinking, they’re not used to measure psychological stress. Instead, these stress tests are used to measure how well your heart is able to handle physical activities. These tests are also known as cardiac stress tests.
What is a stress test?
According to Harvard Health Publishing, a cardiac stress test can help determine your risk of heart disease, although it often has to be used in combination with other tests. In the past, stress tests were routinely used as yearly screening tests for middle-aged or senior men.
But despite the fact that this test is still very useful, most doctors have started ordering it only when needed to prevent over-testing and over-diagnosing, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Too many unnecessary tests can result in false positives, which can cause additional expenses, worrying, and anxiety for patients and their loved ones.
According to MedlinePlus, there are different types of cardiac stress tests that can be used in different situations. These stress tests include:
- Exercise stress test: this is the most common type of stress test. During this test, you’ll be asked to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike while wearing EKG electrodes to measure your cardiac activity. The intensity of the exercise will increase progressively until you reach a specific heart rate target or if the EKG shows abnormalities. You’ll also be monitored until your heart rate returns to its baseline.
- Nuclear stress test: this test is conducted similarly to a regular exercise stress test, but your doctor will inject an intravenous dye into your circulatory system before you begin exercising. This dye will allow your healthcare team to take images of your heart during physical activity and at rest. The radioactive dye is harmless and you will eliminate it through your urine after the test.
- Stress echocardiogram: your healthcare provider will perform a heart echocardiogram or ultrasound while you’re at rest. Then, you’ll exercise on a treadmill or stationary bicycle during a specific amount of time, and your provider will take more images of your heart during exercise. Both sets of images will be compared to look for changes in your cardiac activity during physical activity.
What does a stress test detect?
Stress tests are used to detect whether your heart is working normally and identify heart disease risk. When you exercise, your blood pumps more blood to make sure your body is getting enough oxygen. A stress test can show whether your heart can fulfill these increased requirements and how much exercise you can tolerate.
A cardiac stress test can detect several cardiac abnormalities, including:
- Coronary artery disease
- Arrhythmia or irregular heartbeats
- Risk of future heart attacks
Who needs a stress test?
According to the American Heart Association, you may need a stress test if you:
- Have an irregular heartbeat
- Have symptoms of cardiac disease, such as chest pain or palpitations
- Need to determine your exercise tolerance levels for other reasons
- Need to check whether your treatment for heart disease is working
- Are getting other tests to diagnose coronary disease
Can psychological stress be measured?
So if stress tests are only meant to show how your heart responds to physical activities, is there any way to measure physiological stress?
Not really. There isn’t a standardized test that can accurately measure your stress levels, since stress is subjective and the way we experience it can vary greatly from one person to another. However, certain signs, behaviors, and feelings can help you determine your current stress levels.
According to a study published by the journal Health Psychology Open, stress measurement techniques can include:
- Self-reported questionnaires
- Life events checklists
- Structured interviews with your therapist or healthcare provider
Different types of stress, such as work stress, social isolation, and acute stress linked to important life events has been associated with a higher disease risk. It’s very important to keep your own stress levels under control, and to keep an eye out for manifestations of stress. According to the NHS, stress symptoms can include:
- Muscle tension or pain
- Digestive problems
- Low libido
- Chest pain
- Concentration problems
- Excessive worrying
- Changes in your sleeping pattern
- Changes in your appetite
There are different types of stress, and they can all produce negative effects on the human body. It’s important to keep your stress levels under control, both cardiac and otherwise. Your doctor can help you implement strategies to stay healthy in the long run.
- Cardiac exercise stress testing: What it can and cannot tell you - health.harvard.edu
- Why You May Not Need a Stress Test - health.clevelandclinic.org
- Stress Tests - medlineplus.gov
- What Is a Stress Test? - heart.org
- Best practices for stress measurement: How to measure psychological stress in health research - ncbi.nlm.nih.gov
- Stress - nhs.uk