Health Team

Treadmill stress test analyzes heart risks

Posted July 14, 2011 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated July 14, 2011 6:17 p.m. EDT

— Rather than a costly cardiac catheterization to look for blocked heart arteries or even a CAT heart scan to look for signs of calcium deposits, a treadmill stress test is a non-invasive way to rule out certain heart problems, doctors say.

When a patient undergoes a stress test, cardiologists monitor blood pressure and watch the results of an electrocardiogram. Then, doctors compare images of the patient's active heart to the one at rest.

A Framingham Risk Calculator, which takes into account blood pressure, age, cholesterol levels and whether a person is a diabetic or smoker, might be used to help to determine whether a patient even needs a stress test or the other procedures.

The Framingham Risk score helps determine a patient's long-term risk.

If patients are found to be at a high risk for future heart problems, they might have to undergo a heart catheterization. Doctors might also place patients on medications to lower cholesterol, control their blood pressure and suggest modifying diet and exercise routines.

WakeMed cardiologist Dr. Joel Schneider said the real challenge is handling people who have intermediate risk.

Schneider said he wants to be careful not to over-treat them, but many doctors can make the mistake of under-treating these patients. The key is for these patients to be aware of their risk, see their doctor regularly and report any changes in health to a doctor.