Also referred to as a stress test or exercise tolerance test, the exercise EKG is the same test performed for the resting EKG, except you are performing exercise while the heart's electrical activity is recorded. You may be asked to walk on a treadmill or exercise will be simulated using medications while you are lying still. Ultrasound or nuclear images may also be taken of your heart before and after the exercise portion is completed. The exercise EKG allows your doctor to evaluate the performance of the heart and adequacy of coronary circulation under different levels of stress. Findings may be useful in the following evaluations:
- To evaluate exercise tolerance and capacity
- To distinguish chest pain that is cardiac in origin from pain caused by other problems
- To evaluate heart rhythm at increased heart rates
- To evaluate the effectiveness of medications used to manage chest pain associated with heart disease
In addition to the equipment used to perform the exercise EKG, a blood pressure cuff is placed on your arm for continuous monitoring. A baseline EKG and blood pressure reading are taken before exercise begins, then at regular intervals during and after the exercise. The exercise continues until one of the following endpoints:
- Your target heart rate is achieved.
- You experience chest pain.
- The technician or nurse detects EKG abnormalities.
- There is a significant change, especially a drop in blood pressure.
- You become exhausted and are unable to continue.