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You can't buy good health but you can buy good health information. Check out these newly released Special Health Reports from Harvard Medical School:

What exercise stress testing can tell you about the heart and what it can't, from the April 2013 Harvard Men's Health Watch

Does it make sense to get an exercise stress test, "just in case," to make the your heart is still ticking like a fine Swiss watch? Probably not—unless you have symptoms of heart disease, according to the April 2013 issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch.

About one-third of all medical tests are unnecessary. Besides wasting time and money, unnecessary tests can lead to useless and potentially harmful follow-up tests and procedures. Exercise stress testing is often needed for individuals with symptoms like chest pain, unexplained fatigue, or feeling winded in response to normal physical activity. In such cases, it can help a doctor figure out what is wrong, or at least rule out heart trouble. In a person who feels fine, though, just-in-case stress testing is unlikely to reveal a heart problem.

In the classic exercise stress test, a person walks on a treadmill that makes the heart work progressively harder. The heart's rate and electrical rhythms are monitored, along with blood pressure and the appearance of symptoms like chest discomfort or fatigue. Abnormalities in blood pressure, heart rate, or heart rhythms, or worsening symptoms could point to coronary artery disease: fatty deposits (plaques) that reduce the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel that makes recommendations to doctors, has urged doctors not to routinely offer exercise stress testing to people without symptoms or strong risk factors for coronary artery disease. Physician groups like the American College of Cardiology support this recommendation.

The final decision, though, must come from a conversation with a trusted doctor. "The guidelines leave a lot to physician judgment, because we're sometimes in a gray zone where we don't really know what's the 'right' thing to do for everyone," says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of chief of cardiology for the VA Boston Healthcare System.

Read the full-length article: "Cardiac stress testing: What it can and cannot tell you"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch

  • Learn how to sleep again
  • On call: CoQ10 for muscle aches
  • On call: Shingles vaccination
  • Cardiac exercise stress testing: What it can and cannot tell you
  • AMD: a preventable form of vision loss
  • Is acupuncture for you?
  • Eat seafood the healthy way
  • In the journals: Are your whole grains wholly healthy?
  • In the journals: When a depression drug fails, add talk therapy
  • In the journals: Hepatitis C treatment extends life
  • In the journals: No generation gap found in diabetes education

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.