Exercise Stress Echocardiograms

A stress echocardiogram compares the performance of your heart at rest to the performance of your heart during exercise. The test involves an echocardiogram (ultrasound), an electrocardiogram (EKG) and a stationary bike attached to a bed. The bike allows you to pedal while lying flat on the bed, and it allows the sonographer to conduct the echocardiogram while you exercise.

This test is used to measure your symptoms, monitor for cardiac arrhythmias (abnormal heart beats ), the changing of your heart function during peak stress, and your blood-pressure response to exercise.

Why Is This Test Performed?

  • To detect low blood flow (ischemia) of the heart muscle during exercise
  • To evaluate the function of your heart and valves during exercise
  • To evaluate for abnormal shortness of breath during exercise to rule out cardiac causes
  • To evaluate the effectiveness of your cardiac medications
  • To determine your likelihood of having coronary artery disease

What If I Cannot Exercise?

If you are not able to exercise during a stress test, your doctor may order a dobutamine echocardiogram.

What Do I Do to Prepare for the Test?

  • A nurse will call you the day before your test to give you instructions.
  • Do not eat or drink anything four hours before the test, except for sips of water with your medications.
  • Take all of your prescribed medications at the usual times, with a small sip of water, unless your doctor tells you not to. If your ordering physician has asked you to not take certain medications prior to the exam, let the nurse who calls you know.
  • If you have diabetes, please contact your doctor for specific instructions about taking your medications before the test.
  • On the day of the test, please wear comfortable clothes and shoes suitable for exercising.

What Happens During the Stress Echocardiogram?

  • Your test will take place in the Smidt Heart Institute in the echocardiography section of the Noninvasive Cardiac Laboratory. The testing area is supervised by a cardiologist.
  • The sonographer will bring you from the waiting room into our stress lab. You will be asked to remove clothing from the waist up and be given a gown to wear.
  • Small pads called electrodes will be placed on your upper body to record the electrical activity of your heart. Your heart rate, blood pressure, breathing rate and oxygen level will be monitored.
  • The sonographer will acquire a resting transthoracic echocardiogram prior to exercise to measure your heart at rest.
  • A nurse will ask you questions regarding your medications and perform an assessment on you. An intravenous line will be placed in your arm in case any medications are needed during the test or in event of an emergency.
  • A physician will review the risks and benefits of the stress test, and you will sign a consent form prior to starting the stress test.
  • The physician will instruct you about how much pedaling you will need to do, and the sonographer will take more images during your exercise.
  • During the stress test, it is important to let the doctor or nurse know if you have unusual feelings in your chest, arms, neck or jaw, lightheadedness or dizziness, heart palpitations (the feeling that your heart is beating too fast), or shortness of breath.
  • After the test, you will rest until your heart rate and blood pressure return to normal levels. You will get dressed and the nurse will take you back into the waiting room.

How Long Does the Test Take?

Your appointment will take about 90 minutes. The actual exercise time is usually between five and 15 minutes.

How Do I Get the Results of My Test?

After our echocardiologists have reviewed the images, their final report will be entered into your electronic medical record. Your ordering physician will have access to these results and discuss them with you.

To schedule an appointment, call our scheduling office at 310-423-6157.