Medical Definition of Pharmacologic stress test

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Pharmacologic stress test: There are a diversity of pharmacologic stress tests. Here this refers specifically to a pharmacologic cardiac stress test in which certain medications are administered that stimulate the heart to mimic the physiologic effects of exercise.

One of the medications used in a pharmacologic stress test is dobutamine, which is similar to adrenaline. Dobutamine is carefully administered to gradually increase the heart rate and strength of the contractions of the heart muscle. Simultaneously, echocardiography or radionucleide imaging is performed.

Alternatively, a medicine called adenosine is administered, which simulates the physiology of the coronary artery circulation during exercise. Adenosine is combined with radionucleide isotope imaging to provide a very accurate test for the detection of significant coronary artery disease (CAD).

Pharmacological stress testing is commonly performed in patients who are thought to be at high risk for significant CAD and who are scheduled for major non-cardiac surgical procedures. These patients are often unable to perform exercise stress testing due to the underlying condition for which they require surgery. In this setting, pharmacological stress testing is invaluable in assessing the cardiac risk of patients prior to surgery.

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Last Editorial Review: 1/24/2017

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