What is a treadmill or exercise stress test?

A treadmill stress test is the most common way to measure how your heart and blood vessels respond to exercise. The patient walks on the treadmill while an ECG (electrocardiogram) records heart activity. During the test, the speed and grade of the treadmill increases every two to three minutes. The technician looks for changes in the electrocardiogram patterns and blood pressure levels that indicate your heart is not getting enough oxygen.

Your physical condition determines the length and difficulty of the test, with most tests lasting 6-10 minutes or less. If you complete the test with no abnormal ECG changes or unusual elevated blood pressure, it is considered that you have a low risk for coronary heart disease.

Stress tests are recommended for people who have been inactive for a long period of time; have a history of family heart disease; are over 40; are smokers; are overweight; or have abused alcohol or drugs. The results of the test can help a doctor prescribe an exercise program for you that will reduce the heart risks.