An exercise stress test measures the heart's response to stress or exercise. An electrocardiogram (ECG) is monitored while children exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike. While the procedure is not often used for children under six, it’s useful to evaluate school-age children, adolescents and young adults.
How an Exercise Stress Test Works
An ECG tracing will be monitored throughout the test to compare the effects of increasing stress on the heart. On a treadmill, the incline and speed will be increased periodically to make your child exercise harder. If your child is riding a bicycle, they will pedal at a steady rate while the resistance is periodically increased. Your child will exercise until reaching a target heart rate (determined by your physician and based on your child's age and physical status), or until your child stops due to fatigue, shortness of breath, chest pain, irregular heart rhythms or other symptoms.
Exercise Equipment Used
In addition to a treadmill or stationary bike, the equipment used includes an ECG machine, a pulse oximeter (to measure oxygen in the blood), electrodes (small, plastic patches that stick to the skin) lead wires, which attach to the skin electrodes, and a blood pressure monitor. Your child may be asked to wear a headpiece, mouthpiece and nose clips to measure respirations during exercise.
Your child will have an initial or "baseline" ECG and blood pressure readings done before exercising. The child will walk on the treadmill or pedal the bicycle during the exercise portion of the procedure. ECG, blood pressure and breathing will be monitored during exercise. Your child will then sit for about 15 minutes after exercising while ECG and blood pressure are monitored.
After an Exercise Stress Test
A hospital stay is not necessary after the procedure unless your physician determines that your child's condition requires further observation or hospital admission. Your child may feel a little tired or sore for a few hours after the procedure, particularly if they are not used to exercising. Otherwise, your child should feel normal within a few hours after the procedure, if not sooner.
Depending on the results of the exercise ECG, additional tests or procedures may be scheduled for more diagnostic information.