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Treadmill Stress Test

What does this test do?

An exercise stress test measures the effect of exercise on your child’s heart. A technician will place 10 flat, sticky patches called electrodes on your child’s chest.

These patches are attached to an electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor that follows the electrical activity of the heart during the test. The test takes about an hour.

A cardiologist may order an exercise stress test if a child has an electrical problem in the heart, is having any kind of chest pain, to identify heart rhythm changes that occur during exercise, or to test for a heart valve problem.

Patients will walk on a treadmill or pedal on an exercise bicycle. Slowly (about every 3 minutes), patients will walk (or pedal) faster on an incline or with more resistance. It is like walking fast or jogging up a hill.

While the child exercises, the ECG will measure the heart’s activity. A technician will also monitor the child’s blood pressure.

The test continues until:

  • The child reaches a target heart rate.
  • The child develops chest pain or a change in blood pressure.
  • The ECG suggests that the heart muscle is not getting enough oxygen.
  • The child is too tired or has other symptoms that keep him or her from continuing.

How to prepare for the test

Wear comfortable shoes and loose clothing to allow for exercise. Ask your provider about taking regular medicine on the day of the test since some may interfere with test results. A child should not eat solid foods or drink caffeinated beverages for at least three hours before the test. Your child can drink water up to one hour before the study.

How the test will feel

The health care provider will place electrodes on your child’s chest to record the heart's activity. The preparation of the electrodes on your 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. Technicians will take baseline measurements of heart rate and blood pressure before exercise starts.

Children often experience some of the following symptoms during the test:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Dizziness
  • Palpitations
  • Shortness of breath

What abnormal results mean

Abnormal results may be because of:

  • Abnormal heart rhythms during exercise
  • Changes in your ECG suggesting abnormal heart muscle or coronary artery function

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 of the heart

Risks

Stress tests are generally safe. But 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.