Treadmill Test: Why It's Done and What the Procedure Is

Has your doctor said that you need a treadmill test for your heart? You may be wondering what it is, why it’s done and what the procedure is. We explain all you need to know about the treadmill test in this post.

What Is a Treadmill Stress Test?

Treadmill Test

A treadmill stress test, also known as an exercise stress test or cardiac stress test, is a test doctors use to diagnose coronary heart disease. It helps to assess how well your heart works when it has to work hard.

During a treadmill stress test, your heart rate and blood pressure is measured as you use a treadmill. You will walk at first and then increase speed to a run, if this is possible for you. Your doctor will monitor how your heart responds as your activity level increases.

Why The Treadmill Test Is Done

The treadmill test is done as an objective way to measure heart health. It is a way to detect any symptoms of coronary heart disease.

Coronary heart disease is when fatty deposits clog up your arteries. This reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart.

Your heart doesn’t have to work that hard while you are resting. But when you walk, jog or run on a treadmill, your heart has to work much harder. It is put under stress.

A treadmill stress test helps the doctor see if your heart is receiving enough oxygen and blood when it is working at its hardest.

Putting the heart under stress, and seeing how it responds, highlights problems that may indicate coronary heart disease. For example, chest discomfort during the test, fatigue, abnormalities in heart rate, blood pressure or electrical signals.

The treadmill test for heart disease will detect arteries that are narrowed by 70 percent or more. They are very effective at picking up significant coronary heart disease. But less effective in picking up early signs.

There are other further tests a doctor can do if you pass the stress test but have other risk factors for heart disease.

Another reason why the treadmill test is done is to determine your level of health at the start of a new exercise regime. The test helps the doctor assess how much exercise you can do safely. This is normally only necessary if you have an underlying health condition.

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Treadmill Test Procedure

Now you understand why the treadmill test is done. But what’s the treadmill test procedure? Let’s break it down:

A treadmill stress test involves using a treadmill. You will need to wear comfortable gym clothes and trainers. Avoid eating or drinking for three hours before the test.

Before the test starters, you will be hooked up to an ECG machine (an electrocardiogram). This records your heart’s electrical activity, its rhythm and its rate.

To connect you to the machine, the doctor will put some sticky patches on your arms, legs and chest. The patches have electrodes on. Wires connect the electrodes to the machine, to pick up your heart’s electrical signals.

When the test begins, you will walk on the treadmill. Then, speed and incline of the treadmill will start to increase.

Treadmill Stress Test

As the speed and incline increases, you will start jogging and then running, if this is possible for you. The doctor will not force you to exercise at a pace that is uncomfortable or unsafe.

While you use the treadmill, you will be monitored to see how your heart rate and blood pressure is responding to the activity.

If any heart problems are picked up, the doctor will stop the test. Or if you have any chest pains or feel weak, you can ask the doctor to stop the test.

The test normally lasts about 15 minutes. Once the doctor has the results they need, they will stop the test.

A treadmill stress test is often used as an initial screening procedure. If any problems are picked up, you may need further tests to diagnose them. For example, a coronary angiogram.


Treadmill Test

The treadmill test is used by doctors to see how your heart responds to stress. Working out on a treadmill makes the heart work harder.

Monitoring your heart rate, blood pressure and electrical signals from the heart during this test help the doctor detect problems. An ECG machine helps the doctor monitor pick up electrical activity from the heart.

If you have any chest pains or fatigue, or heart rate, blood pressure or ECG abnormalities, you may have heart disease. These signs suggest you have fatty deposits in your arteries, a symptom of coronary heart disease.

If your treadmill stress test picks up any problems the doctor will do further tests to reach a proper diagnosis. Once you have received a diagnosis the doctor will recommend the best course of treatment.

If you pass the stress test but show other signs of heart disease, the doctor may still order further tests. This is because the test does not always pick up heart disease in its early stages.

Please speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your treadmill stress test. This post is intended to answer some common questions but it is not medical advice.

Learn about the benefits of treadmill workouts in our treadmill buying guide.

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