Harvard Heart Letter

Imaging stress tests: A clearer view of your heart's health

Exercise tests may include special scans that evaluate blood flow to your heart.

If you have chest discomfort, shortness of breath, or other symptoms that suggest heart disease, your doctor may recommend a stress test. Plaque buildup in your arteries may be limiting blood flow to your heart, which is more evident when the heart is stressed. In many cases, exercise provides the "stress"—you walk or run on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike. If you're unable to exercise, a pharmacologic stress test (see box) is a good alternative.

Exercise stress tests may be combined with imaging tests. These provide pictures of how the heart contracts or how blood is flowing to the heart's muscle, both at rest and right after exercise.

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