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Exercise Stress Test

AKA Exercise Electrocardiogram

How can I prepare for the test?

  • Do not smoke or eat a heavy meal before this test.
  • Wear flat, comfortable shoes (no bedroom slippers or sandals) and loose, lightweight shorts or sweatpants. Walking or running shoes are best.
  • Tell your doctor if:
    • You are taking any medicines.
    • You are taking medicine for an erection problem (such as Viagra). You may need to take nitroglycerin during this test, which can cause a serious reaction if you have taken a medicine for an erection problem within the past 48 hours.
    • You have had bleeding problems, or if you take aspirin or some other blood thinner.
    • You have joint problems in your hips or legs that may make it hard for you to exercise.
    • You have a heart valve problem.

What happens before the test?

  • You may want to stretch your arm and leg muscles.
  • You may have to remove certain jewelry.
  • You will have a blood pressure cuff on your upper arm.
  • Small pads or patches (electrodes) will be attached to your skin on your chest. 

What happens during the test?

You walk on a treadmill. On the treadmill, you will start out slowly in a level or slightly inclined position. After certain periods of time, the speed and steepness of the treadmill will be increased so that you will be walking faster and at a greater incline.

During the test:

  • Your EKG, heart rate, and blood pressure are recorded.
  • You might be asked to use numbers to say how hard you are exercising. The higher the number, the harder you think you are exercising.
  • The test will continue until:
    • You need to stop.
    • You have reached your maximum heart rate. Heart rate is how many times your heart beats in a minute. Maximum heart rate is the fastest your heart can beat when you are exercising as hard as you can. Maximum heart rate changes as you get older.
    • You have angina symptoms, such as chest pain or pressure.
    • You are very tired or very short of breath.
    • Your doctor feels you need to stop because of a change in your heartbeat or blood pressure.

What happens after the test?

  • You will be able to sit or lie down and rest.
  • Your EKG and blood pressure will be checked for about 5 to 10 minutes.

How long does the test take?

The test usually takes 15 to 30 minutes.

What is an Exercise Stress Test?

An Exercise Stress Test or Exercise Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) is a test that checks for changes in your heart while you exercise. Sometimes your doctor can only see heart problems during exercise or while symptoms are present.

Why do I need this test done?

You may need this test to check your heart’s electrical activity. It can help find out whether a heart problem is causing chest pain and can help your doctor decide on the best treatment for certain heart problems. It also helps find the cause of symptoms that happen during exercise or activity, such as dizziness, fainting, or rapid, irregular heartbeats.

What else should I know?

  • No electricity passes through your body during the test. There is no danger of getting an electrical shock.
  • During the test, tell your doctor if:
    • You have chest pain.
    • You are very short of breath.
    • You are lightheaded.
    • You have other symptoms.

When should I call for help?

Call 911 anytime you think you may need emergency care. For example, call if:

  • You passed out (lost consciousness).
  • You have been diagnosed with angina, and you have angina symptoms that do not go away with rest or are not getting better within 5 minutes after you take a dose of nitroglycerin.
  • You have symptoms of a heart attack. These may include:
    • Chest pain or pressure, or a strange feeling in the chest.
    • Sweating.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Pain, pressure, or a strange feeling in the back, neck, jaw, or upper belly or in one or both shoulders or arms.
    • Lightheadedness or sudden weakness.
    • A fast or irregular pulse.

After you call 911, the operator may tell you to chew 1 adult-strength or 2 to 4 low-dose aspirin. Wait for an ambulance. Do not try to drive yourself.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if you have any problems.

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It’s also a good idea to keep a list of the medicines you take. Ask your doctor when you can expect to have your test results.

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