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What are the Different Types of Heart Rate Tests?

By C. Webb
Updated May 17, 2024
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Heart rate tests are used by medical professionals to determine a patient's heart rate. Patients suspected of having slow, fast, or irregular heart rates undergo heart rate tests as part of the diagnostic process. Heart rate issues are often sporadic; therefore, various methods are employed to trigger the issue while medical professionals observe. Once the problem is identified, a treatment plan is designed. Tests are sometimes repeated over time to check treatment effectiveness.

Electrocardiograms provide one method of arrhythmia diagnosis. The test measures three wave lengths: the P wave, QRS wave, and T wave. The first two waves originate in different heart chambers; the T wave records when the heart returns to a resting state so the next beat can be released. Electrocardiograms do not require sedation and are completed in approximately three minutes.

Leads are attached with sticky glue across the chest and to each arm and leg. The test is started and a record of the heart rate is printed on paper as a permanent record. This test can identify which type of arrhythmia the patient has, but because arrhythmia can be sporadic, it is not always accurate. It is typically used as an initial examination because of its low cost and non-invasive method.

Holter monitors are also high on the heart rate tests' list due to cost effectiveness. They are also used when a patient is suspected of having sporadic heart rate issues, because the test lasts a minimum of 24 hours. The patient is equipped with a small monitoring device attached to heart leads on the chest. In some cases, the patient simply wears the monitor for the prescribed number of hours and then sends the information via a landline telephone to the physician's office.

In other cases, patients are told to hit a button on the monitor every time they have a heart rate event and to record in a notebook what activity they were performing when the event began. This is effective in identifying heart rate triggers. Rapid heart rates are often triggered by caffeine, nicotine, stress, and other easily controllable factors.

When the suspected cause of fainting is a heart rate issue, a tilt-table test is usually ordered. The patient is strapped onto an exam table and equipped with heart rate and blood pressure monitors. The table is then tilted slowly until it reaches a 65-degree tilt. Heart rate and blood pressure are constantly monitored to determine at which point the heart reacts poorly and causes the patient to faint. Under these medically supervised conditions, the problem can be diagnosed.

An electrophysiology exam is one of the heart rate tests completed in a medical setting. The patient is lightly sedated, and a tube is guided through the body from the thigh artery to the heart. A camera is attached to the tube, giving doctors a visual of the heart chambers. Once at the heart, the doctor uses various techniques to trigger the heart rate problem and tries different medications to see which one stops the problem. In some cases, the area where the heart rate problem starts is cauterized, destroying the tissue in an attempt to permanently cure the arrhythmia.

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