The ‘ladder test’ quickly measures heart health

FRIDAY, December 11, 2020

If you can climb four flights of stairs in less than a minute, your heart is likely in good shape, according to a new study.

The researchers set out to find a simple and inexpensive way to assess heart health that can help doctors identify who requires more extensive tests, explained Dr. Jesús Peteiro, a cardiologist at the University Hospital of A Coruña in Spain.

Trying to run up the stairs could reveal how healthy your heart is, they concluded.

The study included 165 patients referred for stress testing because they had known or suspected coronary artery disease. Symptoms included chest pain or shortness of breath during exertion.

The patients walked or ran on a treadmill, gradually increasing their pace and moving on until they were exhausted. Their exercise capacity was measured as metabolic equivalents (MET).

After resting for 15 to 20 minutes, the patients were timed as they climbed four flights of stairs (60 stairs) at a rapid pace (but without running) without stopping.

The researchers then compared the patients’ METs during the treadmill test and the time it took them to climb the stairs. Those who climbed the stairs in less than 40 to 45 seconds achieved more than 9 to 10 METs on the treadmill test.

Previous research has shown that 10 METs during a stress test are associated with a low mortality rate (1% or less per year, or 10% in 10 years).

Patients who took 1.5 minutes or more to climb the stairs achieved less than 8 METs on the treadmill test, which translates to a death rate of 2% to 4% per year, or 30% in 10 years.

The researchers also assessed cardiac function during the treadmill test and compared those results with the patients’ stair climbing times.

Approximately 58% of the patients who took 1.5 minutes or longer to climb the stairs had abnormal heart function during the treadmill exam, compared with 32% of those who climbed the stairs in less than a minute.

The study was scheduled for presentation on Friday at a virtual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.

“The ladder test is an easy way to monitor your heart health,” Peteiro said in a society news release. “If it takes you more than a minute and a half to climb four flights of stairs, your health is not optimal and it would be a good idea to see a doctor.”

Data and conclusions presented at meetings are generally considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

More information

The US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute offers a guide to a healthy heart.

SOURCE: European Society of Cardiology, press release, December 11, 2020

Robert Preidt

Medical News
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