Cardiac Treadmill Stress Testing


Cardiac Treadmill Stress Test Preparation

  • Wear sneakers and loose, comfortable clothing (a sports bra is recommended for females).
  • DO NOT TAKE the following Blood Pressure or Cardiac medications (also called Beta Blockers or Calcium Channel Blockers) at least 48 hours prior to your test (Do Not take this medication the day of the test or the day before; however, bring these medications with you): Inderal (Propranolol), Tenormin (Atenalol), Ziac (Bisoprolol), Lopressor/Toprol XL (Metoprolol), Bystolic (Nebivolol), Coreg (Carvedilol), Norvasc (Amlodipine), Nifedipine, DynaCirc (Isradipine), Verapamil, Diltiazem. It is important to follow this guidance as it affects the outcome of the stress test.
  • Take your other prescribed medications as usual, except ones for diabetes to lower your blood sugar (since you cannot eat before the test).
  • DO NOT eat up to (3) hours prior to test; however, DO drink plenty of water
  • Avoid consuming stimulants such as caffeine, coffee or tea, before test.
  • Refrain from smoking or from strenuous exercise on the day of the test.
  • Men may need to have their chest shaved if necessary.

*Please arrive 15 minutes prior to your scheduled appointment time.

Treadmill Stress Test Information

Used to evaluate heart function, a stress test requires that a patient exercises on a treadmill or exercise bicycle while his or her heart rate, breathing, blood pressure, electrocardiogram (ECG), and feeling of well being are monitored.


When the body is active, it requires more oxygen than when it is at rest, and, therefore, the heart has to pump more blood. Because of the increased stress on the heart, exercise can reveal coronary problems that are not apparent when the body is at rest. This is why the stress test, though not perfect, remains the best initial, noninvasive, practical coronary test.
The stress test helps doctors determine how well the heart handles the increased demands imposed by physical activity. It is particularly useful for evaluating possible coronary artery disease, detecting inadequate supply of oxygen-rich blood to the tissues of the heart muscle (ischemia), and determining safe levels of exercise in people with existing heart disease.


The exercise stress test carries a very slight risk (1 in 100,000) of causing a heart attack. For this reason, the exercise stress test should be attended by a health care professional with a defibrillator and other emergency equipment on standby.

The patient must be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack and stop the test if he or she develops any of the following symptoms:

  • an unsteady gait
  • confusion
  • skin is grayish or cold and clammy
  • dizziness or fainting
  • a drop in blood pressure
  • chest pain (angina)
  • irregular heart beat (cardiac arrhythmias)


The technician affixes electrodes to specific areas of the patient’s chest, using special adhesive patches with a special gel that conducts electrical impulses. Typically, electrodes are placed under each collarbone and each bottom rib, and six electrodes are placed across the chest in a rough outline of the heart. Then the technician attaches wires from the electrodes to an ECG, which records the electrical activity picked up by the electrodes.
The technician runs resting ECG tests while the patient is lying down, then standing up, and then breathing heavily for half a minute. These tests can later be compared with the ECG tests performed while the patient is exercising. The patient’s blood pressure is taken and the blood pressure cuff is left in place, so that blood pressure can be measured periodically throughout the test.
The patient begins riding a stationary bicycle or walking on a treadmill. Gradually the intensity of the exercise is increased. For example, if the patient is walking on a treadmill, the speed of the treadmill increases and the treadmill is tilted upward to simulate an incline. If the patient is on an exercise bicycle, the resistance or “drag” is gradually increased. The patient continues exercising at increasing intensity until he or she reaches his or her target heart rate (generally set at a minimum of 85% of the maximal predicted heart rate based on the patient’s age) or experiences severe fatigue, dizziness, or chest pain. During this time, the patient’s heart rate, ECG pattern, and blood pressure are continually monitored.

In some cases, other tests, such as echocardiography or thallium scanning, are also used in conjunction with the exercise stress test. For instance, recent studies suggest that women have a high rate of false negatives (results showing no problem when one exists) and false positives (results showing a problem when one does not exist) with the stress test. They may benefit from another test, such as exercise echocardiography. People who are unable to exercise may be injected with drugs that mimic the effects of exercise on the heart and given a thallium scan, which can detect the same abnormalities that an exercise test can.


Patients are usually instructed not to eat or smoke for several hours before the test. They should also tell the doctor about any medications they are taking. They should wear comfortable sneakers and exercise clothing.


After the test, the patient should rest until blood pressure and heart rate return to normal. If all goes well, and there are no signs of distress, the patient may return to his or her normal daily activities.


There is a very slight risk of a heart attack from the exercise, as well as cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heart beats), angina, or cardiac arrest (about one in 100,000).

Normal results

A normal result of an exercise stress test shows normal electrocardiogram tracings and heart rate, blood pressure within the normal range, and no angina, unusual dizziness, or shortness of breath.

Abnormal results

A number of abnormalities may show up on an exercise stress test. An abnormal electrocardiogram (ECG) may indicate deprivation of oxygen-rich blood to the heart muscle (ST wave segment depression, for example), heart rhythm disturbances, or structural abnormalities of the heart, such as overgrowth of muscle (hypertrophy). If the blood pressure rises too high or the patient experiences distressing symptoms during the test, the heart may be unable to handle the increased workload. Stress test abnormalities usually require further evaluation and therapy.