Treadmill Test for Heart Problems

Also called an exercise or cardiac stress test, a treadmill test is performed to measure how well your heart performs during physical activity. Treadmill tests can detect a variety of heart problems that other types of tests can't pinpoint. You might undergo a stress test if your doctor believes you have a heart problem or to monitor an already diagnosed heart condition.

An exercise stress test typically involves walking on a treadmill at increasing levels of intensity while your doctor monitors your blood pressure, heart rhythm and breathing, according to Your health care provider will place electrodes on your chest, arms and legs to monitor your heartbeat using an electrocardiogram, commonly known as an EKG or ECG. You'll also wear a blood pressure cuff on your arm during the test. You'll typically begin walking on the treadmill at a slow pace, and then the pace will speed up and the treadmill's incline will increase as the test progresses. Your doctor will monitor the changes in your blood pressure and heartbeat or pulse as the exercise on the treadmill becomes more intense, explains the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

The purpose of a treadmill test is to measure how well your heart works during exercise. The stress test aims to determine whether you have any blockages or narrowing in your arteries, an irregular heart rhythm during exercise, heart-related chest pain during physical exertion and cardiac muscle damage. Treadmill tests are also used to measure your heart's response to treatments or procedures and the safest level of exercise for your health status or following a heart attack. As a diagnostic tool, stress tests are typically used to detect coronary artery disease and heart arrhythmias, says.

Prior to a treadmill test, you should discuss with your doctor all information about your medical history, any medications that you're taking, any joint problems that you may have and whether you are or might be pregnant, according to the University of Michigan Health System. In particular, you should tell your health care provider if you're taking blood-thinners or medications to treat erectile dysfunction. Before the treadmill test, your doctor will likely perform a physical exam, a "resting" ECG and sometimes an echocardiogram, notes the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. You should abstain from eating for four hours, consuming caffeine for 12 to 24 hours and smoking for several hours before the stress test. If you use a glucose monitor for diabetes, bring it with you on the day of the treadmill test.

Few risks are associated with a treadmill test, usually because your doctor will evaluate whether you're healthy enough to perform the test beforehand. However, you shouldn't undergo a treadmill test if you have severe lung disease, unstable angina, uncontrolled high blood pressure, myocarditis or severe anemia, warns the University of Michigan Health System. In rare cases, treadmill tests can cause chest pain, irregular heart rhythms and low blood pressure leading to dizziness or fainting, says. In extremely rare cases, a treadmill test can cause a heart attack.