Patient Education from Capital Cardiology Associates
The heart performs differently at rest than it does during exercise. An exercise stress test – also known as a treadmill test – is designed to help your doctor learn how your heart performs during exercise or other activities that would make the heart work harder. The term “stress” is used simply to distinguish the difference between a resting heart and a heart that is more actively pumping. Testing used to examine for abnormal blood flow to the heart muscle involves some form of stress testing. The most basic of these tests is a “regular” exercise stress test in which a patient is placed on a treadmill while attached to an ECG machine.
The treadmill increases in speed and incline every 3 minutes, and evidence of lack of blood flow (presumably from a blocked artery) is suspected based on changes in the ECG during exercise or development of symptoms during exercise. The benefit of this type of test is that it is fairly simple to perform; however, it does require that a patient be able to exercise and that his or her ECG is normal prior to the test.
As activity increases during the test, more oxygen is needed and the heart responds by pumping more blood. This test can show if there is reduced blood flow to the arteries that supply the heart. It also helps doctors learn the limitations of exercise appropriate for each individual patient.
What happens during the exercise stress test?
• Your heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, electrocardiogram (ECG) will be monitored during the test.
• You will begin by walking at a slow pace on the treadmill. The speed of the treadmill will be gradually increased and the incline will be increased to make it feel as though you are going up a small hill.
• You may stop the test at any time you feel uncomfortable.
• There’s very little risk for healthy patients in taking the test – no more than if you were to walk fast or walk up stairs.