What is a tilt-table test?
If you often feel faint or lightheaded, your doctor may use a tilt-table test to find out why. During the test, you lie on a table that is slowly tilted upward. The test measures how your blood pressure and heart rate respond to the force of gravity. A nurse or technician keeps track of your blood pressure and your heart rate (pulse) to see how they change during the test.
“It was a strange feeling. I felt like I was standing when they tilted the table, but my feet were not touching anything. It was fun - like being suspended in air.” Jim, age 72.
Why do people have tilt-table tests?
Doctors use this test to trigger your symptoms while watching you. They measure your blood pressure and heart rate during the test to find out what’s causing your symptoms. The test is normal if your average blood pressure stays stable as the table tilts upward and your heart rate increases by a normal amount.
If your blood pressure drops and stays low during the test, you may faint or feel lightheaded. This can happen either with an abnormally slow heart rate or with a fast heart rate. That’s because your brain isn’t getting enough blood for the moment. (This is corrected as soon as you are tilted back to the flat position.) Your heart rate may not be adapting as the table tilts upward, or your blood vessels may not be squeezing hard enough to support your blood pressure.
Feeling lightheaded or fainting may be caused by taking certain medicines, severe dehydration, abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmias), hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), prolonged bed rest and certain nervous system disorders that cause low blood pressure.
Are there risks with tilt-table tests?
There are few risks. People rarely faint during tilt-table tests. And even if they do, it’s safer than fainting on your own in an uncontrolled situation. If a person does faint, usually they feel well again within a minute or so after the table returns to a flat position.
How do I prepare for a tilt-table test?
What happens during a tilt-table test?
A nurse or technician with special training performs the tilt-table test in a hospital or clinic EP (electrophysiology) lab. The test has two parts.
The first part of the test shows how your body responds when you change positions.
“I guess my blood pressure dropped very quickly, and the nurses told me they could see my ECG change. I didn’t realize it was the end of the test but they said they had gotten all of the information they needed.” Mary, age 78
The second part of the test shows how your body responds to a medicine (isoproterenol) that causes your heart to beat faster and stronger. This medicine is like the hormone adrenaline that your body releases when you are under stress. This medicine may make you feel as if you are exercising. It may make you more sensitive to the tilt-table test if your blood pressure didn’t change during the first part of the test.
The tilt-table test can last about 90 minutes if you do both parts of it. If you only do the first part, you may be done in 30 to 40 minutes.
What happens after a tilt-table test?
You may feel tired and a little sick to your stomach right after the test. You may stay in a recovery area for 30 to 60 minutes so nurses can keep track of your blood pressure and heart rate. After recovery, most people can drive home and return to their normal activities. However, if you lose consciousness during the test, you may need to have more observation and testing. Don’t drive home if you have fainted.
How I do I learn about my results?
You may get your results as soon as the test is over. Sometimes your doctor will give you the results a few days later. Results are either “negative” or “positive.”
How can I learn more about tilt-table tests?
Talk with your doctor. Here are some good questions to ask: