An electrocardiogram (ECG) is a simple and fast test to evaluate the heart. For this test, electrodes (small, plastic patches that stick to the skin) are placed at certain spots on the chest, arms, and legs. The electrodes are connected to an ECG machine by wires. Then, the electrical activity of the heart is measured, interpreted, and printed out. No electricity is sent into the body.
Natural electrical impulses coordinate contractions of the different parts of the heart to keep blood flowing the way it should. An ECG records these impulses to show how fast the heart is beating, the rhythm of the heart beats (steady or irregular), and the strength and timing of the electrical impulses as they move through the different parts of the heart. Changes in an ECG can be a sign of many heart-related conditions.
An exercise ECG is done to assess the heart's response to stress or exercise. In this test, the ECG is recorded while you are exercising on a treadmill or stationary bike. An ECG tracing will be taken at certain points during the test to compare the effects of increasing stress on the heart. Periodically, the incline and treadmill speed will be increased to make exercise more difficult during the test. If you are riding a bike, you will pedal faster against increased resistance. In either case, you will exercise until reaching a target heart rate (determined by the healthcare provider based on age and physical status) or until you are unable to continue due to tiredness, shortness of breath, chest pain, or other symptoms.
Some reasons for your healthcare provider to request an exercise electrocardiogram (ECG) include:
There may be other reasons for your healthcare provider to recommend an exercise ECG.
Because of stress on the heart during the test, there is a small chance for:
It may be uncomfortable when the sticky electrodes are taken off. If the electrode patches are left on too long they may cause tissue breakdown or skin irritation.
There may be other risks depending on your specific medical condition. Be sure to discuss any concerns with your healthcare provider before the procedure.
Certain factors or conditions may interfere with or affect the results of an exercise ECG including:
An exercise electrocardiogram (ECG) may be done on an outpatient basis or as part of your hospital stay. Tests may vary depending on your condition and your healthcare providers practice.
Generally, an exercise ECG follows this process:
You should be able to go back to your normal diet and activities, unless your healthcare provider tells you differently.
Generally, there is no special care needed after an exercise ECG.
You may feel tired for several hours or longer after the test, particularly if you do not normally exercise. Otherwise, you should feel normal within a few hours after the exercise ECG. If you feel tired for more than a day, contact your healthcare provider.
Tell your healthcare provider if you develop any signs or symptoms (such as, chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fainting).
Your healthcare provider may give you other instructions after the test, depending on your particular situation.
Before you agree to the test or the procedure make sure you know: