Key Points about Treadmill Stress Test (Exercise test)

  • A treadmill stress test is a screening test your doctor may use to determine how exercise affects your heart.
  • Patients who have experienced chest pain or discomfort, unusual shortness of breath, or heart palpitations may be candidates for a treadmill stress test.
  • Before the test, follow your doctor's instructions to ensure an accurate test. You should not eat, drink, or smoke within two hours of the test.
  • During the test, you will be hooked up to special equipment that will monitor your heart. You will be instructed to walk slowly on the treadmill as the speed and include is increased. You will likely be asked to breathe into a tube for a couple of minutes. After the test, you will lie down, and the care team will monitor your heart and blood pressure.

Overview

A treadmill stress test, also known as an exercise stress test or exercise test, is a diagnostic screening tool used to test how exercise affects your heart.As the test goes on, you will have to work harder to get your heart rate up. As your heart rate increases, your body will need more oxygen to pump more blood. The exercise test can determine if your blood supply can adequately supply the heart. 

Candidates for a treadmill stress test

An exercise stress test is appropriate for people who are experiencing multiple risk factors of heart disease, such as:

  • Chest pain or discomfort
  • Unusual shortness of breath
  • Heart palpitations

If you have these symptoms, your doctor may recommend a treadmill stress test to:

  • Determine if you have coronary artery disease
  • Understand what a safe level of exercise is for you
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of cardiac treatments
  • Understand your future risk of other cardiac issues such as heart attack

Preparing for a treadmill stress test

In preparation for a treadmill stress test, follow these guidelines:

  • Do not smoke or eat a large meal within two hours of the test
  • Wear athletic clothes and shoes
  • Inform your doctor of all medications you are taking and ask your doctor which ones you should take on test day
  • If you've taken medication for erectile disfunction in the previous 24 to 48 hours of the test, tell your doctor before the test begins

Expectations during a treadmill stress test

In preparation for the test, a technician will connect electrodes to your chest, which are connected to a monitor that displays your heart rate and rhythm. 

You will be instructed to walk or run on the treadmill and gradually increase the speed and incline. Your heart rate, heart rhythm, blood pressure, and other symptoms will be monitored during the test.

You will be instructed to continue exercising until:

  • You reach your target heart rate
  • Results show your heart is not getting a sufficient supply of oxygen
  • You experience troublesome symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or heart rhythm irregularities
  • You develop another symptom such as leg or back pain, where you are unable to exercise

After the test, you will be monitored until your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal. 

Severe complications, such as having a heart attack or experiencing a dangerous heart rhythm, are rare. Inform your doctor if you experience any chest pain or dizziness.

Duration and results from a treadmill stress test

Your doctor will review your results with you right after the test. If you have an abnormal result, your doctor may order other tests such as:

  • Coronary angioplasty
  • Nuclear stress test
  • Stress echocardiography