In an effort to establish my risk of cardiovascular disease, I recently underwent what’s known as stress echocardiography (stress echo test) with Dr Jason Kaplan at Macquarie University Clinic. This was following my first lot of tests (calcium score and pulse wave analysis amongst others), which indicated I have a very low risk of developing cardiovascular disease for the time being.
Watch my interview with Jason below, or scroll down to read my notes.
The first steps in a stress echo test
The first part of the stress echo test is having real-time ultrasound pictures taken of your heart from multiple views, mostly of your left ventricle, which is the main pumping chamber. This is all done while you are connected to an ECG, which records the electrical activity of the heart.
Two technicians are usually present during this process. One is an echosonographer, who takes the ultrasound pictures, and an ECG technician, who monitors the ECG and measures blood pressure and heart rate during the exercise test. A doctor is usually in attendance as well.
The stress echo test occurs prior to exercise to take a baseline of how the heart is functioning, and then after exercise when your heart rate is high.
It also provides an indication of exercise capacity and fitness. It’s not just how much you do on the treadmill, but it’s about how you look on the treadmill and how fit you are, as fitness is directly correlated with how long we’re going to move for.
Further, the stress echo test looks at how well your heart rate recovers and how quickly it rises.
If someone isn’t very fit, their heart rate will rise very quickly. The more fit they are, the better their heart rate will recover.
While I was on the treadmill during my stress echo test, I was told my heart rate recovered well – down to about 120 beats per minute.
According to the test, I have good fitness for a woman my age, and exercised for about 12 minutes, which is a good workload. I also had a good rise in blood pressure and heart rate, and my heart rate recovered nicely.
While I was on the treadmill, the technicians took images of my heart from all angles. They found the blood supply to all segments of my heart were good. No arteries seemed to be blocked, which complied with my calcium score, and the heart and valves were functioning normally.
How often should you undertake a stress echo test?
If you have a low risk of cardiovascular events then you won’t need to undertake a stress echo test very often – perhaps every five years. If an abnormality is identified during a stress echo, however, your doctor will typically suggest you return sooner.
The entire process doesn’t take very long, and provides a comprehensive view of your cardiovascular health.