Exercise Stress Test
An exercise stress test is also called a stress electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) or a treadmill test. The goal of the stress test is to raise a person's heart rate to determine if blood flow is reduced in the arteries that supply blood to the heart.
Nuclear cardiology and stress testing at the Massachusetts General Hospital Corrigan Minehan Heart Center is a joint effort between the cardiology and radiology departments and provides various types of heart stress tests that help to identify and diagnose heart disease. Cardiologists use the cardiac stress test for different reasons depending on a patient’s condition. Our team may recommend a cardiac stress test to:
- Evaluate the cause of chest pain
- Measure the strength of your heart after a heart attack or surgery
- Establish a baseline for patients who have cardiac risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of coronary artery disease
- Determine how well your heart tolerates exercise and activity Nuclear cardiology nurses are carefully trained to conduct stress testing as well as respond to any issues surrounding the test.
Cardiac nurses perform a focused interview with the patient as well as assess the appropriateness of the stress test. In addition, nurses provide a thorough explanation of the test to be performed and answer any patient questions.
During the study, nurses carefully monitor the patient’s responses to the test, including blood pressure, heart rate and the electrocardiogram. After the test, cardiac nurses document the study findings, and the study is finalized by a cardiologist who specializes in stress testing.
About the TestAn exercise stress test is also called a stress electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG) or a treadmill test. The goal of the stress test is to raise your heart rate to determine if blood flow is reduced in the arteries that supply blood to your heart. Your heart rate is raised through exercise, either using a conventional method, such as walking on a treadmill, or by using a medication such as adenosine or dobutamine that increases your heart rate and simulates exercise.
Before the Test
When you schedule your test, it is important to tell your doctor what medicines you take. Ask if you should take any medications before the test. If your test is scheduled before noon, you should not eat or drink anything after midnight. If your test is scheduled for after noon, you may have an early (before 8:00 am), light breakfast. You should not smoke, and you should not eat or drink caffeine products (coffee, tea, soda or chocolate) during the 24 hours prior to the test. We recommend that you wear walking shoes and a comfortable two-piece outfit.
During the Test
Small pads called electrodes are placed on your upper body to monitor your heart rate. After learning how to use the treadmill, you will exercise for several minutes. At first the exercise is at an easy pace, but it slowly gets more difficult. Your heartbeat and blood pressure are monitored during and after the test. Total test time is approximately 45 minutes.
After the Test
As soon as the test is over, you may eat and return to your normal routine. Ask your doctor about returning to medications you were told to skip before the test.