What is an exercise stress test?

An exercise stress test helps doctors determine how well your heart handles physical exertion. This test is also called a treadmill test and is performed with specialized equipment in a cardiac laboratory.

When you engage in physical activity, your heart and lungs need more oxygen, requiring your heart to pump more blood. If you have some type of heart problem, such as coronary artery disease, the exercise stress test evaluates the severity of your condition.

Your doctor may order this test to:

  • Determine the cause of chest pain and shortness of breath
  • Diagnose heart disease
  • Check how well treatments for coronary heart disease are working
  • Determine a safe level of exercise for you
  • Predict your risk of serious heart problems, such as a heart attack
  • To evaluate for cardiac arrhythmia issues or response to treatment

Why choose Ohio State for an exercise stress test?

While there are multiple kinds of stress tests, including echo stress tests and nuclear stress tests, The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center is the only place in the world performing treadmill exercise stress tests inside the MRI scan room.

The standard design of treadmills has made exercise stress testing a challenge near the large magnetic field generated by the MRI equipment. Ohio State's College of Medicine worked with graduate students from Ohio State’s College of Engineering and faculty from the OSU Agricultural Technical Institute to modify a treadmill for use in close proximity to the MRI exam table. Magnetic components were replaced with nonmagnetic stainless steel and aluminum equivalents. This allows us to exercise patients to peak stress and obtain a high definition image of their heart within 60 seconds, which helps us more accurately identify exercise-induced abnormalities.

Exercise stress testing

Experts say the exercise stress test may be low tech, but is highly reliable. Before opting for high-tech testing, there are things you should consider.

What to expect during an exercise stress test

Preparing for your procedure

Do not eat or drink anything for at least three hours prior to your exercise stress test. Check with your physician to determine if any of your medications should be avoided for the days leading up to your scheduled test. Make sure to bring all of your medications, as well as any herbal or dietary supplements and over-the-counter medications, to the test with you. Wear loose clothing and comfortable shoes.

During your procedure

Your stress test will take place on a treadmill or stationary bike. A technician will continuously monitor your heart rate, breathing and blood pressure. In addition, the technician will ask you how tired you feel and if you are feeling any chest pain. You will also have electrodes placed on your chest to monitor the electrical activity of your heart. This is called an electrocardiogram (EKG/ECG).

The pace of the bike or treadmill will gradually increase. If you are on a treadmill, it will be raised to simulate a hill. The test will end once your physician feels enough information has been gathered, or if you are too tired to continue.

After your procedure

You will be asked to sit and rest after the test is complete. Depending on the results, your doctor may order additional tests or refer you to a cardiovascular specialist.

Your physician will give you instructions regarding when and how to resume your daily activities after the test. Be sure to alert your physician if you continue to feel troubling symptoms such as shortness of breath or chest pain.

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