Exercise Electrocardiography

Your Care Explained > Tests and Procedures : Exercise Electrocardiography

Exercise electrocardiography (ECG) is a form of stress test that is performed to detect abnormalities in heart function during exercise or other challenges. Because women are more likely than men to have false-positive exercise ECG tests, a positive test may be followed by either an exercise echocardiogram or a nuclear stress test to better determine heart-attack risk.

Nuclear stress tests are also recommended over exercise ECG for women with diabetes.

What to Expect:

  • The test will take about an hour.
  • Dress as though you’ll be taking a vigorous walk.
  • You can stop if you feel pain or become breathless.
  • You’ll be able to go home on your own.
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Preparing for the Test

You will be asked to avoid eating or drinking anything for a few hours before the test. You may also be given more specific instructions about food and medications that may interfere with the test, including caffeine, heart drugs and diabetes therapies.

You should come to the test wearing a loose, two-piece exercise outfit and comfortable walking shoes. Before the test, you may be asked to take off your shirt and put on a hospital smock that opens in the front. You’ll also need to remove any jewelry that might interfere with the test.

The technician will position you on a table or bed and will attach electrodes to your chest and will hook up the lead wires to the ECG machine. The technician may ask you for your name and other identifying information, which will be entered into the machine’s computer. Before you start exercising, the technician will perform an ECG to measure your heart rate at rest and will take your blood pressure.

During the Test

You will walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bicycle. The speed or incline of the treadmill will be increased as you walk to raise the difficulty of the test. If you’re riding a bike, the resistance will increase and it will become harder to pedal. You will be asked to exercise until you feel tired.

You can expect your heart rate and breathing to speed up and you’ll probably perspire. The technicians will be watching you as well as the ECG tracing for any signs that your heart is being overtaxed. You’ll feel like you’re working, but if you feel faint or have any pain or discomfort in your chest, arm or jaw, let the staff know and they’ll stop the test.

Once the technicians determine that you have exercised to maximum capacity, they’ll slow down the treadmill or lower the resistance on the bike and you’ll walk or pedal slowly to cool down. Your heart rate, blood pressure and ECG will continue to be monitored until the levels begin returning to normal.

Learning Your Results

The ECG tracings from your test will need to be analyzed and the results sent to your doctor, who will let you know what they mean and what, if any, further testing or treatment is recommended. You may want to set up a time to discuss the results with your physician in advance.

Date Last Modified: January 21, 2011

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