Stress Test

Some heart issues can be diagnosed easier when the heart is beating faster than usual. A stress test examines heart activity during exercise.

What is a stress test?  

A stress test is an exercise electrocardiogram (EKG). This test tracks electrical activity of the heart during physical movement. Most patients walk on a treadmill or use a stationary bike. The test usually takes about 15 to 30 minutes.

The EKG will trace the electrical activity on a piece of paper while the patient is moving to increase heart rate.

Why Is a Stress Test Done?

Who gets stress tests?

Stress tests can be done for people with:

  • Chest pain or pressure

  • Irregular heartbeat

  • Heart disease

People starting cardiac rehabilitation also may take an exercise stress test.

Talk to your doctor if you believe a stress test could help diagnose any heart issues you may have while exercising.

What to Expect During a Stress Test

Stress test process

Patients should avoid wearing constrictive clothing while getting a stress test. They will have pads attached to their chest, arms, and legs. They will have an EKG while their heart is at rest. This is a baseline to compare to the stress test. The patient will walk or pedal to increase their heart rate. The EKG machine reads and tracks the activity and prints out when the test is complete.

The test is completed in different sections. Resistance for the bike and treadmill increases as time goes on. Patients may experience pain from the physical activity. Cramps, soreness, and sweat are common. Other symptoms can appear as well. Patients should keep their doctor updated with how they are feeling during the test.

Patients will stop the test if:

  • They need to stop

  • Maximum heart rate is reached

  • Symptoms of stress on heart or lungs appear

  • Decreased blood flow to the heart is detected

  • Serious irregular heartbeats occur

  • Blood pressure drops below their resting rate

Be sure to tell your doctor if you experience any pain or irregular symptoms while exercising.

Stress test recovery

Patients will be given the opportunity to rest after the test. They should avoid taking hot showers or bath for an hour to decrease their risk of fainting. Doctors will evaluate the results and then consult with the patient and the patient will then be free to leave.

Stress Test Risks

Let Your Provider Know About Symptoms During Stress Test

Some patients may have heart issues shown on the original EKG that show the stress tests would not be safe for them. People with other conditions, like severe lung disease, will not be able to participate. Sometimes stress tests can cause:

  • Irregular heartbeats

  • Severe chest pain

  • Fainting

  • Falling

  • Heart attack

Doctors will tell their patients if they are at risk for having irregular symptoms from a stress test. Patients should speak with their doctor about their comfort level and let them know if they start experiencing any changes during the test.

Want More Information on Having a Stress Test?

The HealthWise Library offers more information on what to expect when having a stress test, also known as an exercise test or an exercise electrocardiogram.

Cardiovascular Institute at Maine Medical Center

Maine Medical Center’s Cardiovascular Institute wants to help prevent heart issues. The cardiac rehabilitation program can help patients with heart disease live normally, healthy, and reduce their risk of additional cardiac problems.

Learn more

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