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Excercise Stress Testing

Exercise stress testing, also called stress echocardiogram, allows physicians to see how well the heart pumps blood through the body, especially when it is forced to work harder under the stress of exercise.

An exercise stress test is a common procedure that your doctor might use to diagnose coronary heart disease. It usually involves walking on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike at increasing levels of difficulty.

Sound waves are bounced off the heart, which shows the structure and movement of the organ before and after exercise. By comparing the images, physicians are able to detect any changes in the way the heart works. This helps them determine if the heart is getting enough blood and if it is functioning properly.

During the procedure, a small device called a transducer is placed on the patient’s chest immediately before and after the exercise. The transducer captures the sound waves created by the heart and records the images. Typically during exercise, EKG also is used to record the heartbeat and the patient's blood pressure is monitored.

What to expect during this test or treatment

  • The exercise stress test usually lasts about one hour, but the exercise portion is only about seven to 12 minutes.
  • A technologist will clean 10 small areas of your chest and attach adhesive electrodes to these areas. The electrodes are attached by thin wires that connect to a heart monitor to track your heart’s electrical activity during the test.
  • Men may need to have their chest partially shaved to help the electrodes stick.
  • You also will wear a blood pressure cuff around your arm so that the technologist can track your blood pressure during the test.
  • You will then begin to exercise by walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bike. The degree of difficulty will gradually increase, and you will continue to exercise very hard until you feel exhausted.
  • Your blood pressure and your heart’s electrical activity will be monitored before, during and after the exercise.
  • It is normal for your heart rate, breathing rate, blood pressure and perspiration to increase during the test, but you should tell your technologist if you feel chest, arm or jaw pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or any other unusual symptoms. If such symptoms persist, the test will be stopped.

What to expect after this test or treatment

  • After your exercise, you will walk gently or pedal slowly for a couple of minutes to cool down.
  • Your heart rate, electrical activity and blood pressure will continue to be monitored until the levels are normal. You may be asked to lie down or sit quietly if necessary.
  • As soon as your heart returns to normal, you may eat, drink and resume all regular activities.
  • Your doctor will discuss the results of your test with you at a scheduled time.

Returning home
If you have any questions about your care after you return home, call your physician’s office.

This test or treatment is offered at these facilities:

Want to know more about this condition?
Read more about exercise stress testing in our Health Information Center.

To find a physician visit our Find a Doc or call (502) 629-1234 for a physician referral.

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