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A stress tests (pictured) is one of the main ways that doctors can use to find out whether your heart is healthy or not. Photo: Shutterstock

Explainer | Do you need a heart test? Don’t be scared of them – a Mayo Clinic cardiologist explains how they could save your life

  • Stress tests, EKGs and echocardiograms are three of the main ways doctors can learn whether your heart is healthy or not
  • There is no pain, a doctor says, and explains how the test results can help physicians understand how to make you feel better – and maybe add years to your life

Having a healthy heart is always the goal, but sometimes you need some help to make sure everything is working just right – that’s where heart tests come in.

Health care providers can order many types of heart tests for their patients, and it can get confusing and sometimes scary. Dr Christopher DeSimone, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester in the US state of Minnesota, hopes to put patients at ease by explaining what each test is and does.

Cardiac stress test

“It’s [a stress test] not a scary test. It’s not putting you mentally under stress,” says DeSimone. “It’s physically putting you under stress. I don’t want any patient to be scared or worried about a stress test. It’s not going to be harmful. It’s not going to be painful at all.

A cardiac stress test works by physically putting you under stress – like when you exercise. Photo: Shutterstock

“A cardiac stress test is just that. We’re trying to see what happens when we put your heart under stress. We could do that with making you exercise. We could do that with giving you drugs to mimic exercise, even though you’re sitting down.

“We sometimes also do a nuclear stress test. In this test, we give you an injection of short-lived radioactive medications that are taken up by the heart so that we can get an image of the heart function at rest and with stress. These are safe and rapidly leave your system. There is no pain whatsoever.”

Miracle of the human heart, and how to keep yours healthy

Cardiac stress tests are performed to see if the heart can keep up when put under stress. If not, usually the main reason is the patient cannot get enough blood flow and oxygen to the heart itself. This may suggest blockages in the arteries that feed the heart blood and oxygen.


“It’s a 10-second snapshot of the electricity of what your heart’s doing – top of the heart and bottom of the heart,” DeSimone says. “During the test, you will lay down – again, no pain at all. They’ll put several sticky patches across the chest wall. It’s like giving the physician 12 cameras because there are 12 patches used for an EKG.”

“This also gives us a look into how healthy the muscle is in the atrium and ventricles, the top and bottom chambers of the heart. It’s a very helpful test, non-invasive and a very quick procedure.”
Health care providers can order many types of heart tests for their patients. Photo: Shutterstock
Dr Christopher DeSimone is a cardiologist with Mayo Clinic.


An echocardiogram is essentially an ultrasound for the heart, and it’s used to give health care providers a better look at a patient’s heart in real-time.

“It provides a very comprehensive look at how the blood is flowing in the heart, non-invasively. Nothing’s going inside of your heart. So, again, it’s a painless procedure. Nothing to worry about. But that gives us a lot of information about how healthy your heart is, the size and shape of the heart, how all of the walls of the heart are moving, how the blood is flowing across valves in the heart as blood travels from chamber to chamber and to the rest of the body.”

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DeSimone hopes to take some of the fear out of heart tests so more people will be proactive about their heart health.

“We’re trying to diagnose what’s going on with your heart electrically, structurally, and what we could do to make you feel better – or in certain cases prolong your life,” says DeSimone. “We’re always trying to improve your quality of life.”