An exercise stress test looks at how well your heart responds to exercise.
When you are exercising, your heart has to work harder to pump blood to the entire body. This test helps your doctor see if there is enough blood being supplied to the blood vessels of your heart. Your doctor may advise you to take this test for many reasons including:
- to diagnose a heart condition such as coronary artery disease or abnormal heart rhythms (arrhythmia)
- to determine the cause of symptoms such as chest pain, fatigue, or shortness of breath
- to determine what level of exercise is right for you
An exercise stress test is usually done at a hospital or clinic by a trained technician.
A patient walks on a treadmill as an electrocardiogram (ECG) records his heart's electrical activity.
Risks and precautions
The exercise stress test is usually a straightforward and safe test. Some people may experience chest pain, dizziness, fatigue, or shortness of breath while taking the test. Other side effects, while rare, include heart attacks or abnormal heart rhythm. A health care professional will monitor you during the test and will assist you if you have any problems.
Tell your doctor if you have any heart conditions because exercise might make your condition worse. He or she may decide that an exercise stress test is not appropriate for you. Also inform your doctor if you have asthma, diabetes, or chronic lung disease.
Before the test
Since you will be exercising, wear comfortable shoes and clothing on the day of the test. Your doctor will advise you to stop eating, smoking, and drinking alcohol for at least 4 hours before the test, and to avoid caffeine for 24 hours before the test.
If you are taking any prescription or over-the-counter (non-prescription) medications, supplements, or herbal products, make sure you inform your doctor or pharmacist. Ask them whether it is necessary for you to stop taking any of these medications and products before the test. People who are taking sildenafil (Viagra®) may be asked to stop taking this medication 24 hours before the test.
It is also important to tell your doctor or pharmacist if you have allergies to certain medications or have certain medical conditions.