What is an exercise stress test?

An exercise stress test involves exercising on a treadmill or stationary bicycle while you are closely monitored. Exercise stress tests are used to:

  • Determine how well your heart and body tolerate activity
  • Evaluate the function of your cardiovascular system (heart and blood vessels)
  • Help determine the presence and severity of heart disease
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of your cardiac treatment plan

The results of your exercise stress test will help the cardiac rehabilitation team develop safe, effective, and personalized activity guidelines, and track your progress in the program.

Can I eat or drink on the day of the test?

Yes. Eat as you normally would on the day of your test, but DO NOT eat or drink anything except water for 4 hours before the test.

Should I take my medications the day of the test?

  • Take all of your prescription medications at the usual times, as directed by your physician, unless the cardiac rehabilitation team or your physician tells you otherwise.
  • If you use an inhaler for your breathing, please bring it with you to the test.
  • If you have questions about taking any of your medications on the day of the test, call the Cardiac Rehabilitation Stress Lab at 216.444.9353.

Guidelines for people with diabetes

If you have diabetes and are taking medications to manage your blood sugar, eat your regular meals and take your diabetes medication as prescribed, as long as there is at least 2 hours between eating and the test time. If this is not possible, please contact the physician who is managing your diabetes for specific instructions.

Do not take your diabetes medication and skip a meal before the test.

If you own a glucose monitor, bring it with you to check your blood sugar levels before and after your test. If you think your blood sugar is low, tell the lab personnel immediately.

What should I wear the day of the test?

Wear comfortable clothes. Bring shoes suitable for walking. Do not bring valuables. You will be given a locker to store your belongings during the test.

What happens during the test?

  • Your exercise stress test will take place in the Stress Lab located at Desk JB1 in the Sydell and Arnold Miller Family Pavilion at Cleveland Clinic. A physician supervises the testing area.
  • First, a lab technician will gently rub 10 small areas on your chest and place electrodes (small, flat, sticky patches) on these areas. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph monitor (EKG) that charts your heart’s electrical activity during the test.
  • Before you start exercising, the technician will perform a resting EKG, measure your resting heart rate, and take your blood pressure.
  • Tell the lab personnel if you have exercise equipment at home and what type of equipment it is.
  • You will exercise either on a treadmill or a stationary bicycle.
  • The lab personnel will ask you to start exercising and gradually increase your rate of exercise. You will be asked to exercise very hard until you are exhausted.
  • At regular intervals, the lab personnel will ask how you are feeling. Please tell them if you feel chest, arm, or jaw pain or discomfort; are short of breath; are dizzy or lightheaded; or if you have any other unusual symptoms.
  • The lab personnel will watch for any changes on the EKG monitor that suggest the test should be stopped.
  • The lab personnel will tell you when to stop exercising.
  • After the test, you will walk slowly for a couple of minutes to cool down. After exercising, your heart rate, blood pressure, and EKG will continue to be monitored until the levels are returning to normal.

How will I feel during the test?

You will be encouraged to exercise until you are exhausted. It is normal for your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing, and perspiration to increase. This information will allow your physician to assess your heart’s ability to function.

If you begin to notice chest discomfort, excessive shortness of breath, lightheadedness, irregular heart-beats, or other symptoms of concern, tell the stress lab personnel immediately.

How long does the test take?

The appointment will take about 60 minutes. The actual exercise time is usually between 7 and 12 minutes.

How do I get the results of my test?

During your cardiac rehab consult, the cardiac rehabilitation staff will discuss the test results with you. They will also discuss appropriate lifestyle changes to reduce your risk for future heart problems.

What happens when I complete the cardiac rehabilitation program?

When you complete the program, the exercise stress test will be used to chart your progress and help the cardiac rehabilitation team work with you to update your activity guidelines.

The Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation Program at Cleveland Clinic is comprised of a multi-disciplinary team of physicians, nurses, dietitians, exercise physiologists, and behaviorists. This team cares for people who either have heart disease or who are at risk of developing heart disease. The program includes assessment, education, treatment, and follow-up. A referral is required for an evaluation. Preventive Cardiology staff provides reports to your referring doctor on your treatment and progress.

If you need more information or would like to make an appointment with a specialist, contact us , chat online with a nurse or call the Miller Family Heart and Vascular Institute Resource & Information Nurse at 216.445.9288 or toll-free at 866.289.6911. We would be happy to help you.

© 1995-2009 Cleveland Clinic. All rights reserved. 08/10