Exercise Stress Test

Man with wires attached to chest walking on treadmill. Wires go to ECG machine next to treadmill. Healthcare provider is monitoring ECG machine.

An exercise stress test shows your heart's response to exercise. Your healthcare provider often gives you this test to evaluate the blood flow to your heart, your exercise tolerance, your heart's pumping pattern at different levels of work, or the presence of a heart rhythm disturbance. The test records your heartbeat while you walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bike. The test can be done in a hospital, a test center, or your healthcare provider's office. The test is also called a stress electrocardiogram (ECG). This test is only appropriate in those who have the ability to participate in exercise and have no contraindications such as risk of falls. 

Before your test

Tips to being prepared before your test include the following: 

  • Be sure to mention the prescription and over-the-counter medicines you take. Ask if it’s OK to take them before the test. Include any supplements or herbal medicines.

  • Follow any instructions from your provider about not eating or drinking before the test. 

  • Don’t smoke or have any caffeine for 3 hours before the test, or as directed by your healthcare provider.

  • Don't exercise right before the test. 

Getting ready

Tips can help you get ready for your test: 

  • Wear comfortable walking or running shoes.

  • Wear a shirt that you can remove easily. You may be asked to remove your clothing from the waist up. Women may wear a gown.

During your test

Here is what to expect at the time of the test: 

  • Staff will put small pads (electrodes) on your upper body and a blood pressure cuff on your arm. These are used to monitor your heartbeat and blood pressure during and after the test.

  • You are shown how to use the treadmill or bike.

  • You are then asked to exercise for several minutes. Expect the exercise to be easy at first. It will slowly get harder, with an increase in speed and incline every few minutes. This happens to monitor your heart as it's forced to work harder. 

  • Exercise as long as you can, or until you are asked to stop.

  • You will be asked to stop if you have certain symptoms. Another test to evaluate your heart may then be ordered.

Be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you feel any of the following:

  • Chest, arm, or jaw pain or discomfort

  • Severe shortness of breath

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

  • Leg cramps or soreness

  • Faintness

  • Palpitations

After the test

Here is what to expect after your test: 

  • You can resume your normal activity, unless otherwise instructed. 

  • The results are sent to your healthcare provider.

  • Be sure to keep your follow-up appointment to learn the results of this test and what they mean.

Report any symptoms

Be sure to tell your healthcare provider if you feel:

  • Chest, arm, or jaw discomfort

  • Severe shortness of breath

  • Fatigue

  • Dizziness

  • Leg cramps or soreness

  • Faintness

  • Palpitations