Exercise Tolerance Test

What is an Exercise Tolerance Test?

An exercise tolerance test lets the physician see how well your heart functions when it works harder. This test can provide information about your heart that may not be detected at rest. You will exercise on a treadmill while your EKG and blood pressure are monitored.


Your physician may order an exercise tolerance test to:

  • Diagnose the reason for chest pain
  • Determine the level of heart function for people who have heart disease
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of treatments such as medications or heart procedures
  • Watch for abnormal heart rhythms that may occur during exercise
  • Determine the correct amount of exercise for you

What can I expect during the procedure?

The test begins by placing electrodes on your chest. Your skin may have to be shaved or cleaned with alcohol before the electrodes are applied. Lead wires from the EKG machine are then connected to the electrodes. Three preliminary EKGs will be done: supine, sitting and hyperventilating. A blood pressure cuff will be applied to your arm.

The technologist will demonstrate how to walk on the treadmill and details of the increased speed and incline will be given. Your blood pressure will be taken often and EKGs will be done frequently to detect any abnormalities.

While walking on the treadmill, you should report any symptoms such as: chest pain, dizziness or shortness of breath. The test will continue until you have reached your target heart rate or you are unable to keep walking due to fatigue or significant symptoms. The technologist will also stop the test if your EKG shows any abnormalities. When the exercise portion of the test is over, your EKG and blood pressure will continue to be monitored for several minutes.

An exercise tolerance test is usually safe. There is a small amount of risk because the heart is being stressed. These risks include disorders of the heartbeat, abnormal blood pressure response and–very rarely–a heart attack. Experienced personnel are available to handle any emergencies.

Your test will be interpreted by a cardiologist and the results will be reported to your physician. This test will provide your physician with information to make accurate diagnosis and develop a treatment plan that is best for you.

How do I prepare for the Test?

  • Do not eat or drink four hours prior to the test.
  • Avoid caffeine for six hours before your appointment.
  • Wear a two-piece outfit, preferably with a shirt that opens down the front and comfortable walking shoes.
  • Be prepared for the test to take 30-45 minutes.