What to Expect

Exercise Tests

What is an exercise test?

An exercise test measures how the heart responds to work. As the body works harder during the test, it requires more oxygen, so the heart must pump more blood. This test can show if the blood supply to the heart is reduced during exercise.

Why is an exercise test done?

The test is used to guide activity recommendations for people with existing heart disease. It can determine how much exercise the heart and body are able to do. It is also used to diagnose rhythm abnormalities (arrhythmias) and coronary artery disease.

What are the types of exercise tests?

Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test (CPET)

A CPET tests the heart (cardiovascular) and breathing (respiratory) systems at the same time during exercise. It measures lung volumes at rest and throughout exercise, as well as blood pressure and the heart’s electrical activity.

The CPET can be done on a treadmill or a stationary bike. Your child or adolescent will wear a facemask attached to a gas-flow sensor that measures the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide used by the body during exercise.

The measurements allow the doctor to see how the heart, lungs and blood vessels work together in response to the stress of exercise.

Treadmill Test

The treadmill test checks the heart during exercise. It measures blood pressure and the heart’s electrical activity while walking uphill on a treadmill that slowly gets faster and steeper.

Stress Echocardiogram (Echo)

A stress echocardiogram tests how well the heart muscle is working to pump blood to the body before, during and after exercise. It uses ultrasound imaging and can be done on a treadmill or a bike you ride while lying down (supine bike).

What should we do on the day of the test?

  • Arrive for your appointment 15 minutes early.
  • Wear athletic shoes that tie or clasp tightly.
  • Wear loose, comfortable clothing.
  • Eat a light meal 1 to 2 hours before the test.
  • Drink at least 8 ounces of liquid (for example, milk, water, juice or a sports drink) 1 hour before the test.
  • Do not drink soda or have anything with caffeine (like energy drinks or chocolate), for 2 hours before the test.
  • Please allow 1 to 2 hours for the exercise test.

What will happen during the exercise test?

Before the test, your child or teen will have a baseline electrocardiogram (also called an ECG or EKG) and blood pressure reading done while lying down.

During the test, an ECG is done while your child exercises on a treadmill or stationary bike. There is a warm-up period, and then the speed and steepness of the treadmill or the resistance of the bike will slowly increase. The ECG monitors the change in the heart’s electrical activity as the test gets harder. This lets the doctor see the effects of increasing stress on your child’s heart.

Your child will be asked to keep going until they are unable to continue because of fatigue, shortness of breath or chest pain, or until the doctor or nurse stops the test.

The exercise part of the test generally takes anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes, depending on your child’s fitness level. At the end of the test there will be a cool-down period of about 10 minutes, during which the heart rate and blood pressure will be monitored. The total time from setup to the end of recovery is usually about an hour or two.

When will we get results from the exercise test?

If you are scheduled for a clinic visit the day of the test, you will receive the results immediately following the test. If you are not scheduled for a clinic visit the day of the test, you will get the results after your child’s cardiologist has reviewed the test information. This usually takes about a week.

Contact Us

Contact the Heart Center at 206-987-2015 for a cardiac referral, a second opinion or more information.