Failed a Stress Test? What Does it Mean?

What Happens If You Fail A Stress Test?

Have you been asked to take a stress test off late? If you are answering in affirmative to the question, the doctor might be suspecting some kind of cardiac problem and wants to be sure of the same. The obvious question that arises in mind is what happens if you fail a stress test. This means that there might be some abnormalities in the heart functioning. Sometimes these tests also help in ascertaining as what kind of physical activity is permissible for you and to what extent. So when your healthcare provider asks you to go for a stress test, do not ignore the same by any chance. Continue reading to know what happens if you fail a stress test.

What Is A Stress Test?

Popularly known as treadmill stress test or exercise test, stress test helps doctors in ascertaining as how the heart functions in the body. The heart has to handle quite heavy workloads from time to time and this test helps in understanding as to how the workload is handled by the heart. During the test, the body is made to work harder. For that more fuel and energy is required. The heart needs to pump more blood when the workload is increased. With the stress test, the doctor can understand the blood flow to the heart through the arteries. In case sufficient amount of blood does not reach the heart, it is shown in the readings.

What Does A Stress Test Show?

The Things Which are Monitored via Stress Test Include;

  • The heart rate of an individual
  • Blood pressure
  • Breathing patterns of an individual while at rest and while exercising
  • The level of tiredness one feels
  • Electrocardiogram readings (ECG or EKG)

When the readings are within normal range, it means that the stress test is negative and there are no abnormalities in the functioning of the heart. Abnormal readings indicate towards problems and other tests might be recommended to detect the actual problem.

How Long Does A Stress Test Take?

Actually, the stress test is divided into 2-3 parts and each part takes about 10-15 minutes to complete. The time taken to complete the whole test is approximately 30-45 minutes.

Also, the time taken depends on the type of stress test that needs to be taken. While the exercise treadmill test will take just around 15-20 minutes; if you have imaging test with that, it will take longer.

The Procedure Of Stress Test

There are three sections to the stress test procedure.

  • Procedure Before the Test

    The stress test is usually done at a doctor’s clinic or at a hospital or medical center under the supervision of a medical expert. It is recommended to wear clothes and shoes in which one can comfortably exercise. In many places, a separate gown is given which the person undergoing the test needs to wear. A short period before the test, the individual is asked not to eat anything. Diabetic patients might need adjusting their medications on the specific day of the test. Refrain from caffeine and foods that might interfere with the test – ask your doctor for recommendations. Bring your inhaler to the test if you are asthmatic and let the doctor know about the same.

  • Procedure During Stress Test

    During stress testing, electrodes are attached to the skin of arms, chest, and legs. The electrodes are further connected to an EKG machine, where the heart’s electrical activity is recorded. The pace of the heart beating and the heart’s rhythm are studied. The timing and strength of electrical signals while passing through the heart are also recorded in the EKG machine. The blood pressure is also monitored all throughout the test. Breathing tests are also carried out during the stress test. The next part of the test begins on a stationary bike or on a treadmill. The exercise levels get harder with the progression of the test. If at any time, you feel uncomfortable or not well, tell the technician or support staff immediately. Sometimes medicines are also used for enabling one to take the test.

  • After The Stress Test

    Once the stress test is done, one can get back to normal activities. If there is a need of using radioactive dye during the stress testing, it is recommended to drink lots of fluids so that the dye is flushed out of the system at the earliest.

What Happens If You Fail A Stress Test?

There are many people who are not able to carry out the stress test completely. And even many people will have a doubt of what happens if you fail a stress test? If you fail a stress test, it means that there might be serious underlying heart problems. There are many indications, some of the important ones among them are as follows;

  • In case there are variations and changes in the electrocardiogram, it means that there is low oxygen supply to the various muscles of the heart. Abnormal stress echo results are studied in detail.
  • Some people might face severe chest pain and might have difficulty inhaling and exhaling
  • At the time of carrying out physical exercises, there is no increase in heart rate or blood pressure. This is abnormal as any kind of exertion on the body will lead to increased heart rate and blood pressure.
  • In case chemical stress test for heart or nuclear stress test is done, the specific cardiac areas are indicated where the problems are prominent.

Coronary heart problems are indicated by these test results. However, it has been seen that not all patients who have positive test results suffer from CAD issues. Further tests and investigations might be requested for confirmation of coronary disorders.

Side Effects Or Risks Of Stress Tests

It is true that stress tests might not cause a heart attack or death in patients as the chances of these happening are extremely rare. However, cases of side effects have been reported quite commonly. Some of these include;

  • Feeling of dizziness for low blood pressure
  • An arrhythmia. If it settles down after some rest, it is fine. If it persists, medical treatment at the hospital is needed.
  • Discomfort and jittery feeling when medications are given for making the heart work faster.

Do not bother with the thought as what happens if you fail a stress test. If you do, there are other ways of detecting cardiovascular issues and respective treatments can be done.

Medically Reviewed By
Dr. Kaushal M. Bhavsar (MBBS, MD)Assistant Professor in Pulmonary Medicine, GMERS Medical College, Ahmedabad