When you arrive for your exercise stress test, your doctor asks you about your medical history and how often you usually exercise. This helps determine the amount of exercise that's appropriate for you during the test.
During an exercise stress test
A nurse or technician places sticky patches (electrodes) — which are connected by wires to an electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) machine — on your chest, legs and arms to record your heart's electrical signals. A cuff on your arm checks your blood pressure during the test. You may be asked to breathe into a tube during the test to determine how well you breathe during exercise.
You then begin walking on the treadmill or pedaling the stationary bike slowly. As the test progresses, the speed and incline of the treadmill increases. You can use the railing on the treadmill for balance, but don't hang on tightly, as that may skew the results of the test. On a stationary bike, the resistance increases as the test progresses, making it harder to pedal.
You continue exercising until your heart rate has reached a set target or until you develop symptoms that don't allow you to continue. These signs and symptoms may include:
- Moderate to severe chest pain
- Severe shortness of breath
- Abnormally high or low blood pressure
- An abnormal heart rhythm
- Certain changes in your electrocardiogram
You may stop the test anytime you're too uncomfortable to continue exercising.
After an exercise stress test
After you stop exercising, you may be asked to stand still for several seconds and then lie down for about five minutes with the monitors in place so that they can continue taking measurements as your heart rate and breathing return to normal.
When your exercise stress test is complete, you may return to your normal activities for the remainder of the day.
Dec. 05, 2014
- What is stress testing? National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/stress. Accessed Oct. 14, 2014.
- Yanowitz FG, et al. Exercise ECG testing: Performing the test and determining the ECG results. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Oct. 14, 2014.