Limitations of the Treadmill Stress Test

By Tess Thompson

The treadmill stress test is conducted to evaluate blood flow to the heart. Indirectly, the test reveals the amount of oxygen that reaches the heart muscle during exercise in comparison to the oxygen supplied while at rest. The condition of the heart is monitored while the subject is on the treadmill with the help of electrodes that are attached to the chest with a gel.

Stress testing does not reveal the imbalances of blood flow in all the four chambers of the heart. It is more concentrated on the left ventricle and revealing the imbalances in the blood flow to this chamber of the heart. This, however, is acceptable since most of the hard work involved in pumping blood towards the various parts of the body is done by the left ventricle.

The imbalances, if found, point towards an abnormal narrowing of arteries, known as stenosis. Mild stenosis is can be treated with regular and prescribed exercise. The exercise widens the arterioles, reducing the imbalance that may have existed. It should be noted, however, that a treadmill stress test only reveals severe stenosis of large coronary arteries.

Severe stenosis implies an occlusion of more than 75%. In most cases, it is the result of hardening of the arteries, a condition known medically as atherosclerosis. If not treated and allowed to progress, severe stenosis can cause angina or chest pain, which can lead to a heart attack in extreme cases.

Contrary to the popular belief, a treadmill stress test is not conclusive proof of the health of the cardiovascular system and blood flow. This is so because it is unable to detect lipid deposits within the walls of arteries that are a major cause of heart attacks and myocardial infarction. It was in 1990s that scientists discovered that most of the plaque formed in arteries is flat, and therefore the occlusion is limited to less than 50%, rendering it undetectable in a treadmill stress test.

As a treadmill stress test reveals an occlusion only when it has already reached alarming proportions, it cannot be relied upon to give a clean bill for heart health. There is enough evidence to show that some people exercised to the maximum heart rate without showing any symptoms of abnormality in the test result have suffered a major heart attack within days of the stress test.

Many complications of the heart are caused by anxiety related stress and emotional distress. You may need to understand how to manage stress to be able to manage heart health better. There are various techniques that you can use to reduce emotional stress that range from medication to natural remedies to complimentary treatments. Attaining physical stress relief is equally important and can be achieved by exercise, good posture, a balanced diet and avoiding junk foods.


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