Exercise stress test

An exercise stress test allows continuous monitoring of your symptoms, heart rhythm and blood pressure whilst you exercise.

What is an exercise stress test?

An exercise stress test may be requested by your doctor for various reasons which may include chest pain, shortness of breath, fainting on exertion, or palpitations. It is also sometimes carried out as part of a routine screening programme for occupational purposes.

The test allows continuous monitoring of your symptoms, heart rhythm and blood pressure whilst you exercise.

Patient performing an exercise stress test

What does an exercise stress test involve?

A physiologist places ten stickers on your chest and connects these to leads allowing close monitoring of your heart rate and rhythm (an ECG).

A blood pressure cuff will also be placed around your arm. You will then be asked to walk on a treadmill which starts off slowly and at a slight incline (slope).

The treadmill gets faster and steeper every three minutes. Two minutes into each stage your blood pressure will be taken. You are encouraged to continue exercise until reaching at least 85% of your age-related target heart rate (calculated by 220 beats per minute minus age).

The time taken to reach this target varies from person to person. However, if there are any significant ECG or blood pressure changes the test may be stopped before this point. You are advised to notify the physiologist if you experience any symptoms such as chest pain or would like to stop due to fatigue.

You will be monitored for five to ten minutes after exercise until your heart rate and blood pressure return to baseline.

Is there any preparation required before an exercise stress test?

Please wear comfortable, loosefitting clothing and flat shoes – preferably trainers. We also ask that you avoid heavy foods and caffeinated drinks for at least 2 hours before the test.

You should check with your doctor to find out whether you need to stop some of your regular medications before the test. It may be necessary to stop some drugs (such as beta blockers) for 24-48 hours beforehand. Please ask your doctor for advice on which medications should be stopped.

Frequently asked questions

The results of the test are sent to the referring doctor within 24-48 hours of completion. The doctor will discuss these results with you.

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