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Exercise Stress Test

Pediatric Heart Care

Exercise Stress Test

The American Family Children's Hospital pediatric cardiology specialists treat infants, children and adolescents with heart-related conditions. During the course of treatment, the cardiology staff may perform a routine, non-invasive test called an exercise stress test to examine the effects of exercise on your child's heart.


An exercise stress test is a screening tool to test the effect of exercise on your child's heart. The test gives a general sense of how healthy the heart is.

How the Test is Performed

The exercise stress test is a non-invasive test. Small electrodes will be placed on the child's chest, arms and legs. These electrodes will measure the electrical activity of the heart.

Before the test begins, baseline measurements of heart rate and blood pressure will be gathered.

During the test, your child will walk on a treadmill and blood pressure readings will be taken throughout. This will measure the heart's reaction to the body's increased need for oxygen.
The test will continue until the child reaches a target heart rate, unless complications such as chest pain or an exaggerated rise in blood pressure develop. She or he will continue to be monitored for 10 - 15 minutes after exercising, or until the heart rate returns to normal.

Sometimes, an echocardiogram will also be done before and after the test. Your healthcare provider will let you know if an echocardiogram will be conducted.

How to Prepare for the Test

  • Don't eat or drink anything containing caffeine at least three hours before the test
  • You can continue to take medications
  • Wear comfortable, loose clothes and shoes such as tennis shoes or sneakers
How the Test Will Feel

Electrodes (conductive patches) will be placed on the child's chest, arms, and legs to record the heart's activity. These electrodes may cause a mild burning or stinging sensation. 

During the test, the child will wear a blood pressure cuff on his or her arm. During the test, the cuff will be inflated every few minutes, producing a squeezing sensation that may feel tight.

Once the test begins, the child will start walking on a treadmill. The pace and incline of the treadmill will gradually be increased. This may cause fatigue as the test progresses.

Why the Test is Performed

A stress test is performed to determine causes of chest pain, the exercise capacity of the heart and to identify rhythm disturbances during exercise. There may be additional reasons that your health care provider requests this test.