Stress Test

What is it?

A man in shorts stands on a treadmill in front of a monitor displaying heart activity while a technician adjusts his blood pressure monitor

A stress test, also known as a graded exercise test (GXT), is a general screening tool used to evaluate the heart's ECG response to exercise. A monitor with electrodes will be attached to the skin on the chest area to record your heart function while you walk in place on a treadmill. There is a normal pattern of changes in the electrical activity of the heart with exercise. With different types of heart disease, there will be various other patterns of changes in the electrical activity of the heart during the exercise process. The resulting change in the shape of the surface mapping of the electrical activity is recorded on the ECG.

Many aspects of your heart function will be checked including heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, ECG (EKG), oxygen levels and how tired you become when exercising.

Reason for Test

  • Helps diagnose coronary artery disease (CAD).
  • Helps diagnose the possible cause of symptoms such as chest pain (angina), exercise induced shortness of breath, exercise induced lightheadedness or exercise induced palpitations.
  • Helps determine your safe level of exercise and your fitness level.
  • Helps predict heart-related conditions and risk of future cardiac events including future risk of a heart attack.

How should I prepare for it?

You can have a light meal with a drink the day of the test but no caffeine (no tea, coffee, chocolate, soda pop).

You should bring comfortable exercise clothing and shoes (preferably running shoes) appropriate for exercising on a treadmill.

Bring a list of all active medications.

Your physician may decide to temporarily stop certain heart medications prior to the test. These are discontinued because they may affect the accuracy of the test. Your physician MUST inform you whether to discontinue these heart medications 48 hours prior to the test. DO NOT STOP any medication on your own without checking with your physician. You may resume taking your medications following the exercise test. Get directions from your physician.

What will happen during the test?

Prior to the test, you will be asked to sign a consent form. Please read it carefully and if you have any questions, ask the technologist or the physician supervising the test. He or she can explain the procedure before it begins.

Several electrode pads will be placed on your chest to obtain an ECG. Men may need to have small areas of their chest shaved. These electrode pads will be connected to an electrocardiograph (ECG) monitor so that your heart rhythm can be watched closely throughout the test. A cuff will be applied to your arm to monitor blood pressure.

You will exercise by walking on a treadmill. The treadmill will start slowly and then the speed and slope will increase in stages. As exercise increases, your heart rate and blood pressure will rise. This is a normal response and they will be monitored along with your ECG.

You will be encouraged to exercise for as long as you can because this increases the accuracy of the test. If you experience any symptoms at any time, such as chest pain, shortness of breath or lightheadedness, immediately tell the individual monitoring the test so adjustments can be made.

After the exercise portion of the test, you will be seated in a chair for a few minutes. Your blood pressure and ECG will continue to be monitored while you recover.

A written report will be sent to your physician upon completion of analysis of the test. Your physician will then explain the test results to you.

Answers to common questions

How long will the test last? The test lasts approximately 30 minutes.

What is the risk of a stress test? The risk of the stress portion of the test is rare and similar to what you would expect from any strenuous form of exercise (jogging in your neighborhood, running up a flight of stairs, etc.). Experienced medical staff is in attendance to manage the rare complications like sustained abnormal heart rhythm, unrelieved chest pain or even a heart attack. These problems could potentially have occurred if the same patient performed an equivalent level of exercise at home or on a jogging track.

Should I stop my medication? Please check with your doctor. There are times that medications are stopped for stress tests and other times they should be continued. Your doctor should tell you.

When can I start taking my heart medication again? You can take your heart medications upon completion of the test, if you had been asked to hold the medications.

Is there a cost to me for the test? No. If you have OHIP coverage, as long as the test is ordered for a medical condition, there is no charge to you for the test. Sometimes the test is ordered for an insurance assessment or ministry of transportation request etc., under such circumstances, there may be a charge to you or your insurance company for the test since it was not ordered for a medical indication by your doctor.

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Cambridge, Ontario N1R 6V6
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