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Center for Heart & Vascular Health

Exercise Stress Echocardiogram

An exercise echocardiogram stress test combines an ultrasound study (echocardiogram) of the heart with exercise to learn how the heart functions when under stress. This test helps show areas of the heart that are not getting enough blood.

During an echocardiogram, a transducer (a small microphone-like device) is held against your chest and takes pictures of your heart. These pictures can be recorded on videotape or printed on paper.

Preparing for an exercise stress echocardiogram test

If you are scheduled for an exercise stress echocardiogram:

  • The test will take 2 to 2.5 hours, unless it is just a routine stress test, which will take 1 hour.
  • Wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes.
  • Do not eat or drink anything with caffeine for 24 hours prior to test. This includes coffee, cola, teas, chocolate milk, chocolate pudding and chocolate candy. This also includes decaffeinated coffee, cola and tea, because these beverages still contain some caffeine.
  • Do not eat or drink anything for at least 4 hours before the test. If you are diabetic, you may have juice and toast, cereal or graham crackers 2 hours prior.
  • Remain on all medications unless otherwise directed by your physician. Bring a list of these medications with you.
  • This test may not be appropriate if you are pregnant, suspect you may be, or are a nursing mother. Please discuss with your doctor before having this test.
  • Request that a copy of your most recent EKG and prescription be sent or faxed to your appointment location by your doctor.
  • We will need to know your weight before starting this procedure.
  • An IV will be started for this procedure.
  • If your test will include Dobutamine, please also refer to Preparing for a Dobutamine stress echocardiogram.

Before the test

  • You will be asked to sign a consent form giving permission to do the test.
  • Electrodes will be placed on your chest to monitor your heart rate.
  • A cuff will be put on your arm to check your blood pressure.

During the test

The test has three parts:

  1. Resting echocardiogram: You will be asked to lie on a stretcher. Gel will be put on the left side of your chest, and ultrasound will be used to take pictures of the heart at rest.
  2. Exercise test: You will walk on a treadmill. The treadmill will move slowly at first, then the speed and incline will increase a little at a time. Tell the doctor if you have chest pain, shortness of breath, leg fatigue or dizziness. The doctor may end the test when you reach your peak heart rate, when you get too tired or when you experience symptoms.
  3. After-exercise echocardiogram: You will be helped back to the stretcher. Another echocardiogram will be done. Your doctor can compare the two sets of pictures (before and after exercise) to see how your heart responds to the stress of exercise.

After the test

The doctor will talk with you about the test results.