Lifesaving Treadmill Test

Ellazer Holland walks with purpose. This treadmill could save his life. "They found out I was having problems with my heart, and they said I had to see Dr. Bailey," he says.

Holland is taking a new test called T-wave alternans. While he walks, a special computer picks up microscopic changes in his heartbeat that could be life threatening. "These changes usually are so subtle that even on a standard EKG or standard treadmill test we can't see them," says cardiologist Russ Bailey, M.D., of Mid-Carolina Cardiology in Charlotte.

Though microscopic, these microscopic changes reveal Holland is at risk for sudden death -- a condition that kills more than 300,000 people a year. Dr. Bailey says T-wave alternans is one of the best tools for heading off sudden death in patients who have had a prior heart attack, valve problems, or weakness of the heart. He says, "Other means of assessing those patients have not been very good at identifying whether they might be at risk. This tool shows promise."

Holland needed an implantable defibrillator -- a device that could save his life if his heart stops. "It won't let it get too low or too high. It will let me know what's going on. I feel real good about it," he says.

Dr. Bailey says the T-wave alternans test is only a screening tool. When abnormal findings are found, the next step is an electrophysiology study, which standard for further assessing a patient's risk for sudden cardiac death.