What Is an Exercise Stress Test?
The exercise stress test -- also called a stress test, exercise electrocardiogram, treadmill test, graded exercise test, or stress ECG -- is used to provide information about how the heart responds to exertion. It usually involves walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike at increasing levels of difficulty, while your electrocardiogram, heart rate, and blood pressure are monitored.
How Should I Prepare for the Exercise Stress Test?
Before your stress test:
- Please refer to the complete pre-test checklist here.
- Do not eat or drink anything except water for four hours before the test.
- Do not drink or eat foods containing caffeine for 12 hours before the test. Caffeine will interfere with the results of your test.
- If you use an inhaler for your breathing, bring it to the test.
What Should I Wear the Day of the Stress Test?
On the day of your stress test, wear soft-soled shoes suitable for walking and comfortable clothes. Please refer to the complete pre-test checklist here.
What Happens During the Exercise Stress Test?
First, during a stress test, a technician will gently clean 10 small areas on your chest and place electrodes (small, flat, sticky patches) on these areas. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph monitor (ECG or EKG) that charts your heart's electrical activity during the test.
Before you start exercising, the technician will perform an ECG to measure your heart rate at rest and will take your blood pressure.
You will begin to exercise by walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bicycle. The rate of exercise or degree of difficulty will gradually increase. You will be asked to exercise until you feel exhausted.
At regular intervals, the lab personnel will ask how you are feeling. Please tell them if you feel chest, arm, or jaw pain or discomfort, short of breath, dizzy, lightheaded, or any other unusual symptoms. It is normal for your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate, and perspiration to increase during the test. The lab personnel will watch for any symptoms or changes on the ECG monitor that suggest the test should be stopped.
After the test you will walk or pedal slowly for a couple of minutes to cool down. Your heart rate, blood pressure and ECG will continue to be monitored until the levels begin returning to normal.