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Metabolic Stress Test

What is this test?

A metabolic exercise stress measures the effect of exercise on your heart and its ability to perform work.

How the test is performed

Our expert teams perform this test at a medical center or health care provider's office. The test takes around 60 minutes. Experts will also monitor patients for 10 to 15 minutes after exercising.

The technician will place 10 flat, sticky patches called electrodes on your child’s chest. These patches are attached to an ECG monitor that follows the electrical activity of your heart during the test.

The technician will attach a mask that will measure the air your child breathes in and out during testing.

Your child will walk on a treadmill or pedal on an exercise bicycle. Slowly (about every 3 minutes), he or she will be asked to walk (or pedal) faster and on an incline or with more resistance. It is like walking fast or jogging up a hill.

While your child exercises, an electrocardiogram (ECG) measures the activity of the heart. Our team will also measure your child’s blood pressure. We calculate the air contents your child breathes to calculate cardiac function and capacity.

The test continues until:

  • Your child reaches a target heart rate.
  • Your child develop chest pain or a change in your blood pressure that is concerning.
  • ECG changes suggest that your child’s heart muscle is not getting enough oxygen.
  • Your child is too tired or has other symptoms, such as leg pain, that keep them from continuing.

How to prepare for the test

Wear comfortable shoes and loose clothing to allow your child to exercise.

Ask your provider if your child should take any of your regular medicine on the day of the test. Some medicine may interfere with test results. Never stop taking any medicine without first talking to your doctor.

Children must not eat solid foods or drink beverages containing caffeine for 3 hours (or more) before the test. Your child can drink water up to one hour before the study.

How the test will feel

Electrodes (conductive patches) will be placed on your chest to record the heart's activity. The preparation of the electrode sites on your child’s chest may produce a mild burning or stinging sensation.

The blood pressure cuff on your child’s arm will be inflated every few minutes. This produces a squeezing sensation that may feel tight.

Our expert team will measure your child’s heart rate and blood pressure before exercise starts.

An air measurement device will measure a portion of your child’s face and mouth. Your child will be able to breathe freely during the test.

Your child will start walking on a treadmill or pedaling a stationary bicycle. The pace and incline of the treadmill (or the pedaling resistance) will increase slowly.

Patients sometimes experience some of the following symptoms during the test:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath

Why the test is performed

Reasons why a metabolic stress test may be performed include:

  • You have electrical problems in the heart
  • You are having chest pain
  • You have had cardiac surgery.
  • You are going to start an exercise program and you have heart disease or certain risk factors
  • To identify heart rhythm changes that may occur during exercise.
  • To further test for a heart valve problem (such as aortic valve or mitral valve stenosis).
  • To measure your heart function, capacity

There may be other reasons why your provider asks for this test.

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be due to:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms during exercise
  • Changes in your ECG suggesting abnormal heart muscle or coronary artery function
  • Poor oxygentation, capacity suggesting heart failure

When you have an abnormal exercise stress test, you may have other tests performed on your heart such as:

  • Cardiac catheterization
  • Nuclear stress test
  • Stress echocardiography
  • Electrophysiology study
  • Cat scan or MRI of the heart

Risks

Stress tests are generally safe. Some patients may have chest pain or may faint or collapse. A heart attack or dangerous irregular heart rhythm is extremely rare.

People who are more likely to have such complications are often already known to have heart problems, so they are not given this test.