Why is the doctor performing this test?
To evaluate exercise tolerance and determine if there is narrowing in an artery leading to the heart muscle - a warning sign of a possible heart attack. By comparing the electrical activity of the heart before, during, and after physical exercise, your doctor can determine how well the heart muscle is functioning during increased stress.
What is the test?
At the start of the test, your doctor places approximately 10 electrode patches on the skin of your arms, legs and chest (sometimes it is necessary to shave small areas of body hair in order to get a good reading). These electrode patches are hooked up to the Electrocardiography machine, which displays the electrical activity of your heart. All the while, your blood pressure is monitored as well.
Your doctor will first take an EKG reading while you are at rest. Then, you will be asked to exercise on a treadmill (a stationary bike can also be used). The exercise will begin with a slow walk, then steadily the speed and incline will change to increase the workload on the heart. If at any time you feel faint, fatigue, short of breath, or experience chest pain, IMMEDIATELY alert the doctor and the test will stop. EKG measurements will be taken continuously while you are exercising. Once you have reached a pre-determined, optimum heart rate (based on height, weight, gender, etc.), the procedure will end.
You will then relax in a "cool down" period, while EKG measurements continue to be taken.
Where is the test performed?
In the Non-Invasive Cardiology Testing Center and the cardiac rehab facility or in your doctor's office.
How long does this test take?
A stress test varies in length depending on how long it takes to reach your optimum heart rate, and whether or not the test is terminated early due to fatigue, shortness of breath or chest pain. Usually, if the test is completed without a stoppage, it takes about 30 minutes:
- 5 minutes for an EKG at rest
- 15 minutes of exercising on the treadmill measuring the heart's activity at stress
- 7 – 10 minutes measuring activity during the "cool down" period