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What is an Exercise Stress Test?


An exercise stress test (sometimes referred to a treadmill test or exercise test) helps your doctor determine how well your heart handles work or stress. This test can bring to light potential issues such as abnormal heartbeat, reduced blood flow, and possible indicators of coronary heart disease.

How Do You Prepare for an Exercise Stress Test?

In general, you’re ready for a treadmill​ stress test if you’re up to the physical demands of walking on a treadmill. Anything affecting your ability to exercise, such as arthritis or diabetes, should be brought up with your doctor in advance. Your doctor may ask you not to take certain medications for a few hours beforehand. Typically, you’ll also be asked to refrain from eating during the hour or two prior to the test. It is recommended to come in gym clothing, or athletic shoes and comfortable clothing.

Why is a Treadmill Test Performed?

As your body works harder during the exercise test, it requires more oxygen, so the heart must pump more blood. The test can show if the blood supply is reduced in the blood vessels that supply the heart. An exercise stress test can also help the doctor assess your overall fitness level and determine the appropriate type and level of exercise for you.

An exercise stress test is administered in order to:

  • Diagnose coronary artery disease
  • Discover possible heart-related causes of symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath or lightheadedness
  • Ascertain the appropriate level of exercise
  • Follow up to gauge the success of procedures previously done to improve coronary artery circulation in patients with coronary artery disease
  • Find out whether you may be at risk of dangerous heart-related conditions, including heart attack.

What Can You Expect?

The person taking the exercise stress test is first hooked up to equipment that monitors the heart. They then walk on the treadmill, the pace and angle of which is raised over the course of the test to simulate climbing a hill. The patient may be asked to breathe into a tube for a period of a couple minutes. The test can be stopped at any time if necessary. After walking on the treadmill, the patient will sit or lie down to have their blood pressure and heart checked. Your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, electrocardiogram, and energy levels are monitored throughout the stress test.

What is the Followup and Recovery like for a Treadmill Test?

Typically, a treadmill exercise stress test doesn’t require any time to be set aside for recovery. The effects on your body are comparable to the way you feel after a run or a good gym workout.

What are the Potential Costs?

Exercise stress tests are usually covered by insurance. The potential costs depend on your insurance and copays. If you have questions about cost, you should ask your healthcare provider and your insurance company.

What are the Risks of an Exercise Stress Test?

Healthy people who take the test are at very little risk. The effects should be about the same as those of walking fast or jogging up a big hill. However, medical professionals should be present in the unlikely event that something unusual should happen during the exercise stress test.

Who Should Get an Exercise Heart Test?

An exercise stress test might be a good idea if you are over the age of 40 and smoke or have other potential risk factors for heart disease. Spotting coronary issues early on gives you the best opportunity to address your cardiovascular health and avoid dangerous long-term consequences like a heart attack. Talk to your doctor about whether or not a stress test might be right for you.

Related Forms

Stress Test Instructions

Meet Manhattan Cardiology

Mary Greene, MD is a cardiologist who specializes in Coronary and Peripheral Vascular Procedures, Echocardiography and Nuclear Cardiology, and Cardiovascular Disease Medicine. She is board-certified in Internal Medicine, Cardiovascular Disease, Echocardiography, Nuclear Cardiography, and RPVI. After completing her undergraduate degree in biochemistry at SUNY Binghamton,... Learn More »