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Ohio Expert: Don't Discount Stress Test as Heart Health Indicator

June 13, 2012

COLUMBUS, Ohio - High-tech approaches have become more common in medicine to diagnose and treat a variety of ailments. But when it comes to heart health, one expert says a "back to basics" approach can be just as effective.

Dr. Martha Gulati of Ohio State's Wexner Medical Center has authored a paper on the use of stress testing. Despite being relatively "low-tech," she says, a stress test can reveal vital information about heart disease risks, such as exercise capacity, heart rate, blood pressure and chest pain.

"It gets a bad rap that it doesn't give us information as well as imaging. Well, imaging maybe adds to our information, but actually, exercise stress testing in particular will say - with a high degree of confidence - that you do not have coronary artery disease."

Using imaging with stress testing is important and useful, Gulati says, but it is often overused, exposing patients to radiation without considering the consequences.

"Sometimes radiation is necessary for us to make certain diagnoses. But the question is, 'Is it always necessary?' Often, these tests are over-ordered with the imaging - when they're actually not needed."

With rising health-care costs, she believes it's critical to think about more cost-effective ways to deliver medical care.

"Ultimately, we're all paying each others' health care costs at some point in our lives. And in reality, we have to be a little more responsible as physicians about choosing the right tests."

Her hope is that her research will help patients feel empowered to ask why a test is being ordered - and also ask if it includes radiation, to ensure that the benefit outweighs the risk.

Gulati's paper was published in the journal "Current Problems in Cardiology."

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH