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Cardiac Stress Test

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Aug 31, 2022.

What is a cardiac stress test?

A cardiac stress test checks if your heart muscle is getting enough blood during rest and stress. Your heart may be placed under stress with medicine or exercise.

Why do I need a cardiac stress test?

  • Find the cause of symptoms such as chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Monitor or diagnose coronary artery disease, an abnormal heartbeat, congestive heart disease, or a problem with your heart valve
  • Find out how much exercise is safe for your heart
  • Make sure your heart is strong enough for surgery

How do I prepare for a cardiac stress test?

Your healthcare provider will talk to you about how to prepare for your test. He or she may tell you not to eat or drink anything for 2 to 4 hours before the test. He or she will tell you what medicines to take or not take on the day of your test. Wear comfortable shoes and clothes that you can exercise in to your test. Bring an inhaler with you if you normally use one during exercise.

What will happen during a cardiac stress test?

  • A provider will place electrodes (sticky patches) on your chest. Hair may be removed to help the patches stick to your skin. Your provider will attach a wire to each patch. The wires are connected to an EKG monitor. The EKG will display how fast your heart is beating (heart rate) and the rhythm of your heartbeat. A wrap or belt may be placed around your waist to hold the electrodes and wires in place. If you are going to get medicine during your test, a provider will insert an IV.
  • A provider will monitor your heart rate and rhythm during the test. Your blood pressure will also be monitored.
    • During a cardiac stress test with exercise, you will be asked to walk on a treadmill or pedal on a stationary bicycle. Instead, you may lie down and pedal a bicycle. The speed, height, or resistance of the exercise machine may be increased over time. You will be asked to exercise for as long as you can. You may be asked to breathe into a tube. This tube will measure the gases you breathe out. It will also help your provider see how well you can breathe during exercise. Your provider will tell you to stop exercising if you have shortness of breath, chest pain, or leg pain.
    • During a cardiac stress test with medicine, your provider will inject medicine through your IV. The medicine will make your heart beat faster and work harder. The medicine may make you feel anxious, dizzy, nauseous, shaky, or short of breath. You may also have mild chest pain. These symptoms should stop when your provider stops giving you medicine. Tell your provider if you have severe chest pain or dizziness. Other medicine may be given to treat severe chest pain or dizziness.
    • After you exercise or get medicine , you will sit or lie down. Your breathing, blood pressure, and heart rate will be monitored for several minutes.

What will happen after a cardiac stress test?

Your IV will be removed if you had one. You can usually return to work and your normal activities right away.

What are the risks of a cardiac stress test?

Medicine or exercise may cause chest pain, an abnormal heartbeat, dizziness, or a heart attack. Medicine given to stress your heart may cause wheezing or shortness or breath.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.