Exercise stress echo


An exercise stress echocardiogram is a test that uses sound waves (ultrasound) to understand how your heart muscle functions under stress.


Exercise is performed in a controlled environment to see its impact on your heart muscle.


Why am I having an Exercise Stress Echo?

Your referring doctor will consider this test when they are concerned that the symptoms you are describing are due to coronary artery disease. When you have coronary artery disease the blood vessels supplying oxygen to your heart become narrowed and blocked. Over time, reduced levels of oxygen can change the way your heart functions, especially under the stress of exercise.

An exercise stress echocardiogram is used to assess the structure and function of your heart under stress conditions of exercising.

What happens during an exercise Stress Echo?

This test takes place in a testing room with a cardiac technician, echocardiographer and general practitioner or cardiologist supervising.

The cardiac technician will ask you to take off your top so that they can attach stickers to your chest to monitor the electrical activity of your heart. A gown will be provided if required.

A blood pressure cuff will be placed on your arm.

Before you are asked to exercise, the sonographer will use the ultrasound probe to take some picture of your heart at rest. They will apply a cold gel to your chest and use an ultrasound probe to take the pictures. You may feel slight pressure from the probe. They might ask you to hold your breath at points to get the pictures they need.

You will start walking on a treadmill, the speed and slope of the treadmill will increase every three minutes until you reach your target heart rate. In most cases, the treadmill starts very slow at a speed not exceeding 3 km/hr, with a slight incline of 10 degrees. The doctor will let you know when you have reached your target heart rate and will encourage you to keep going to try and reach it so we can get the most information possible from the test.

The sonographer will then ask you to lie on the examination bed so that they can repeat the echo pictures now that your heart is beating faster and stronger. A cold gel will once again be applied to your left chest area and you will feel some pressure from the ultrasound probe. You may be asked to hold your breath or move position so that they can capture the pictures required.

What are the risks of an exercise stress echo?

This is a common, safe test to understand how your heart is functioning, in a small number of patients they may develop chest pain, shortness of breath, a change in blood pressure, irregular heartbeats, dizziness or weakness.

The risk of a major problem is rare and this will be discussed with you before the test when you sign the consent form. Generally, the risk of a heart attack is less than 1 in a 1,000 tests, cardiac arrest less than 1:5,000, and the risk of death is very rare at less than 1:10,000.

Your safety is our priority, so in some cases if these symptoms develop your medical team may decide to stop the test early.

How long does this test take?

An exercise stress echo is a very specialised test, it will take up to 45 minutes to perform.

How do I prepare for a stress echo?

You may be asked to withhold some of your medication for a day before the test. These instructions will be clearly communicated to you when your booking is confirmed

Please avoid caffeine, alcohol and smoking for two hours prior to this appointment.

What to wear?

The cardiac technician will need access to your chest, so it is best to dress in a two-piece outfit on the day of your test. Please wear comfortable shoes that you can walk in.

What to bring?

Please ensure you bring a copy of your referral and a list of your current medication with you.

My results?

A cardiologist will assess your echo pictures, ECG and blood pressure and prepare a report for your referring doctor.