An exercise stress test is a common test doctors use to evaluate your heart. This test helps doctors see how the heart performs during exercise. You may also hear exercise stress tests called exercise tolerance tests, regular stress tests, or standard treadmill tests. When these tests are done, doctors can tell more about blood flow to your heart muscle and how your heart performs during exercise. Stress testing allows your physician to assess your heart rate, rhythm, blood pressure, and symptoms during exercise.
During a stress test, you will wear small metal disks called electrodes. The electrodes are connected to wires called leads, which are connected to a machine with a computer monitor that records the electrical activity of your heart (EKG). By watching this screen, the stress lab staff can monitor every heartbeat while you are exercising.
Patients should not eat or drink for 2 hours before the test. Patients can ask the doctor about any current medicines and whether you should stop taking them before the test. The appointment should not take more than 2 hours to complete. Once you arrive in the stress lab area, staff will review your medications, you will sign a consent form, and prepare for the exercise testing.
A technician will use an alcohol swab to clean the areas of your skin before placing the electrodes. The alcohol may feel cold. Next, the technician will place the electrodes on your chest. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph machine, which records your heart’s electrical activity. A healthy person’s electrocardiogram has a certain pattern, and changes in that pattern can tell doctors if there is a problem with your heart.
You will also wear a blood pressure cuff around your arm, which staff will use to watch your blood pressure during the test.
Before the test, the stress lab staff will record your blood pressure and heart rate. They will also record your heart’s electrical activity before you start exercising (called a resting EKG). In addition, you will wear the electrodes during exercise, have multiple EKGs printed, and have many blood pressure checks.
During the test, you will walk on a treadmill. The stress lab staff will increase the speed and slope of the treadmill which will make you feel like you are walking uphill. The stress lab staff will look for changes in the electrocardiogram patterns and blood pressure levels, which may tell doctors that your heart is not getting enough oxygen. At the end of the test, you will have a brief cool-down phase prior to completion. You will be asked to report any symptoms you experience during the test.
After the test is over, you may eat, drink, and go back to your normal activities.