The stress echo is a combination of an exercise test and an echocardiogram. Its main purpose is to derive information about the coronary arteries non-invasively, by comparing heart muscle function before and immediately after exercise (although heart valves etc. are also seen). If the blood supply is satisfactory then heart muscle contracts more vigorously after exercise, whereas if there is a narrowing in one or more of the arteries supplying the heart muscle with blood and oxygen that area will contract less well. A stress echo can be very helpful for people in patients with a range of cardiac conditions, especially if there is an abnormality of the resting ECG that limits the interpretation of a standard exercise test.
The stress echo procedure
An echocardiogram is performed before and immediately after exercise. Both the studies are compared, and the wall motion of the heart muscle observed for abnormalities, and for changes in function induced by the exercise.
Patients may be asked to stop their beta-blocker medication (for example metoprolol, atenolol, sotalol, celiprolol) 48 hours before the test, as this improves the sensitivity of the test. No other special preparations are necessary for the test.
After the test
A cardiologist experienced in interpreting stress echocardiograms will send a report and recommendations to the referring doctor, and will explain the findings to the patient.