Your doctor may recommend an exercise stress test to:

  • Diagnose coronary artery disease. Your coronary arteries are the major blood vessels that supply your heart with blood, oxygen and nutrients. Coronary artery disease is a condition that develops when these arteries become damaged or diseased — usually due to a buildup of deposits containing cholesterol called plaques. If you have symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pains with exertion, an exercise stress test can help determine if they're related to coronary artery disease.
  • Diagnose heart rhythm problems (arrhythmias). Heart arrhythmias occur when the electrical impulses that coordinate your heart rhythm don't function properly, causing your heart to beat too fast, too slow or irregularly. If you have symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, slow heartbeat or a fluttering in your chest, an exercise stress test can help determine if they're related to an arrhythmia.
  • Guide treatment of heart disorders. If you've already been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, arrhythmia, valvular heart disease or another heart condition, an exercise stress test can help your doctor find out how well treatment is working to relieve your symptoms. It may also be used to help establish the right treatment plan for you by showing how much exercise your heart can handle.

    In some cases, stress tests may be used to help determine the timing of cardiac surgery, such as valve replacement. In some people with heart failure, results from a stress test may help the doctor evaluate the need for heart transplantation or other advanced therapies.

Your doctor may recommend a procedure called a nuclear stress test if a routine exercise stress test doesn't pinpoint the cause of your symptoms. A nuclear stress test is a similar procedure that includes the use of radioactive dye and a special scanner to create images of your heart muscle.

Dec. 09, 2011