During exercise stress testing, the patient is connected to an electrocardiogram (EKG) and a blood pressure machine. Exercise is then performed on a treadmill or stationary bicycle, until the patient is too tired to continue, develops symptoms or changes on the EKG, or meets target heart rates.
Why is it performed?
Exercise stress testing is a non-invasive, indirect way of evaluating the heart’s condition and the arteries that supply it. During exercise, heart muscle has a greater need for the oxygen and nutrients it obtains from its blood supply . If the coronary arteries are partially or totally blocked, that demand will not be met, creating a condition called cardiac ischemia — inadequate blood supply to the heart muscle.
Monitoring the EKG, blood pressure, and pulse while exercising may reveal such problems. The test may also detect exercise-related hypertension or intermittent claudication, a form of exercise-related leg cramps caused by blockages in the leg arteries.
What is experienced?
Patients may be told to discontinue certain medications before the test day. Patients should dress comfortably for exercise in slacks or shorts, a shirt, and sneakers. Button down tops allow the easy attachment of EKG electrodes for the test’s duration. Exercise is continued until the heart rate reaches just below maximal levels, the EKG shows abnormalities in heart rhythms, or your blood pressure goes too high or too low — or uncomfortable symptoms develop. These may be pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or exhaustion.
A technician will attach the electrodes of an EKG to the chest with small, round, sticky patches. A cuff for measuring the blood pressure is placed around the upper arm. A cardiologist monitors the patient during the test, which could last for one to 15 minutes.