Heart Health: Stress test differences between men and women - KTIV News 4 Sioux City IA: News, Weather and Sports

Heart Health: Stress test differences between men and women

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SIOUX CITY, Iowa (KTIV) -

A stress test is designed to get your heart pumping so doctors can check to make sure it's working the way it should. But, the experience can be different for men and women.

KTIV's Kristie VerMulm stepped on the treadmill to find out. While some might dread a heart stress test, she said she was looking forward to it, since the goal is to learn more about one of the most important organs we have.

Since you have to be hooked up to electrodes, most women would do this test in a hospital gown.

First up, a resting echocardiogram to get a good look at Kristie's heart before it's "stressed."

"Your heart is sitting a little lower than I thought it was." said Mercy Cardiologist Dr. Ramin Artang.

Dr. Artang explains that's possible depending on how a person is built. He checks out images of her heart from a few different angles.

"If you cut the heart this way, like this, if the ray comes this way it will give you a round shape and we call it a donut," he said. "What we like to see is all the walls, front, side, back and middle squeeze nice and coming together."

On a different view, Dr. Artang sees that there are some heart valves that leak. He can tell on the echocardiogram by the combination of colors. Red show the blood going one direction through the chambers and blue is another. In this instance, you can see where the two colors combine.

"This valve is closing to allow the blood to get out where it's supposed to go to the main pulmonary artery. The tissue gives a little but so that closed valve opens a little bit and some of the blood leaks backwards," said Dr. Artang.

He said it's actually quite common in younger women, and something that many people will have their entire lives without problem. With all of that now out of the way, it's time for Kristie to hit the treadmill.

A young person should easily be able to walk between 9 to 12 minutes according to Dr. Artang. During that time, the speed and elevation are gradually increased.

"She's starting to have EKG changes, you see that," said Dr. Artang. "Ladies will have changes with their EKG's with exercise that males don't and that's just how we are wired differently. It happens between a third and two-thirds of all women at any age, that they will have abnormal EKG with exercise with completely normal hearts."

A few minutes into the stress test and Kristie is working at her target heart rate. 

Dr. Artang said, "The way you're different from Matt is that you can get your heart rate faster, much quicker and that can be an advantage for strength, sprint type athletes. They need a lot of heart function for a very short amount of time. They need to get that heart rate up very quickly."

A quick move from the treadmill to the table again for a second echo test which will compare the first images to those at full function. Doctor Artang said they show a healthy heart. But had it been a person who's been battling high cholesterol or high blood pressure, or had episodes of chest pain and shortness of breath, these tests would have helped determine whether they need further testing or if its safe to exercise.

"Not everybody needs a stress test. Stress test is for people who have high risk or have symptoms before they start an exercise program. If that's what they need to do," said Dr. Artang.

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