Exercise ECG

Also called a stress test or exercise tolerance test.

An exercise ECG is an electrocardiogram (ECG) that is recorded while you are walking on a treadmill or cycling on an exercise bike. The aim of the test is to see how your heart works when you are more active.

What can the test show?

The exercise ECG helps doctors find out if you have coronary heart disease, as it shows whether your heart muscle is getting enough blood from the coronary arteries during physical activity. An exercise ECG is also helpful for looking at how well your heart is working after heart surgeries and procedures, such as coronary bypass surgery or coronary angioplasty.

What happens during an exercise ECG?

  1. Electrodes are attached to your shoulders and chest and connected to an ECG recorder like in the standard ECG test
  2. You will be asked to walk on the treadmill or cycle the bike, starting off at a comfortable pace
  3. The test will get gradually harder by increasing the speed and/or slope of the machine
  4. You should try and work as hard as you can, but tell the tester if you get tired or very short of breath or start getting chest pain or discomfort
  5. You will be carefully monitored throughout the test and the technician will tell you when to stop.

The test can last between five and fifteen minutes.

What if the exercise is too hard?

An exercise ECG should make your heart work harder than normal, but the tester will not make you exercise beyond your ability. Most people manage to complete an exercise ECG, but if you’re finding it too difficult, or you start to feel any chest pain or discomfort, you can ask for the test to stop.

How can I prepare for this test?

  • Wear light, comfortable clothes and shoes
  • Avoid having a heavy meal a few hours before the test
  • You may also be advised to stop taking certain heart medications for one or two days before the test as they may affect the result.

Want to find out more?

Tests for heart conditions booklet

This booklet describes the special tests that are commonly used to help diagnose heart diseases.

Some of the tests are also used to assess the current condition of people who have already been diagnosed with heart disease.