Exercise Stress Test

Man doing a stress test

An exercise stress test helps your health care professional find out how well your heart handles work. As your body works harder during the test, it requires more oxygen, so the heart must pump more blood. The test can show if the blood supply is reduced in the arteries that supply the heart. It also helps your health care team know the kind and level of exercise that’s right for you.

When taking the test, you:

  • Are hooked up to equipment to monitor your heart.
  • Walk slowly in place on a treadmill or ride a stationary bicycle. Then the speed of the treadmill or the resistance on the bike is increased slowly for more exertion. The treadmill may also tilt to produce the effect of going up a small hill.
  • May be asked to breathe into a tube for a couple of minutes.
  • Can stop the test at any time if needed.
  • Will sit or lie down afterwards to have your heart and blood pressure checked.

Your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), and how tired you feel are monitored during the test.

Stress tests are usually safe and very closely monitored. Medical professionals are present in case something unusual happens during the test and will promptly treat any issues that arise.

A health care professional may recommend an exercise stress test to:

  • Diagnose coronary artery disease.
  • Diagnose a possible heart-related cause of symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath or lightheadedness.
  • Determine a safe level of exercise.
  • Check the effectiveness of procedures done to improve coronary artery blood flow in people with coronary artery disease.
  • Predict risk of dangerous heart-related conditions such as a heart attack.

Depending on the results of the exercise stress test, your health care professional may recommend more tests, such as a nuclear stress test or cardiac catheterization.

What is a stress test?

Download a printable sheet: What Is a Stress Test (PDF)?