Exercise (Stress) Test for Children

Look up a term in The Heart Center glossary.The exercise test is a valuable tool for gaining information about a child's heart function and aerobic fitness.   

Most tests of the heart are done with a person at rest, but often people are active. Exercise testing can give information about how the heart responds to the extra demands of activity.

The graded exercise test collects information that is key for defining how a child's heart responds to various levels of exercise and assesses the level of fitness.

Based on the individual's needs, age or ability, the exercise may be carried out on a treadmill, a stationary bike, or an arm ergometer.

On the treadmill, the test consists of progressive stages that vary in speed and elevation. Tests performed on the bike or arm ergometer also progress through stages with resistance or work increasing with each stage.

The child will have a blood pressure cuff on the right arm. This will be inflated periodically to measure blood pressure at various levels of the exercise test.

To monitor the heart, an electrocardiogram (EKG) consisting of 10 electrodes attached to the child's chest and torso is used.

A mouthpiece may be fashioned in front of the child's face to measure the child's breathing and the volume of oxygen used during the test.

A nose clip is placed on the child's nose during these measurements to ensure accurate readings can be made.

Is the exercise test painful or uncomfortable?

The exercise test may be uncomfortable for the patient's legs as the tests progress through the stages. The patient's legs may start to feel tired and the child will start to breathe more heavily during the progression of the exercise test.

Use of the mouthpiece and nose clip may make the child feel uncomfortable since this is something that does not feel natural to anyone. 

Is the exercise test risky or dangerous?

The exercise test is not risky or dangerous. Complications rarely occur, and if they do, the staff is equipped and trained to handle those rare occasions.

Because the heart's function is being constantly monitored during the test, the exercise will be stopped if anything worrisome is observed.  

Are there any special preparations before or after the exercise test?

The child must not intake any caffeine that day and should not eat, or may eat a light meal two hours before the test. The child should come prepared to do exercise in comfortable clothing and sneakers. You can continue your home medication(s) unless instructed not to by your doctor.

Who performs the exercise test?

Experienced exercise physiologists administer the test under the supervision of a physician.

Who interprets the exercise test? 

A pediatric cardiologist interprets the exercise test. 

Where is the exercise test done?

The exercise test is performed in the Cardiology Clinic area in the Cincinnati Children's Heart Institute, located on the fourth floor of Location C (Outpatient Services Building) on the main campus.

When is the exercise test done?

The exercise test is scheduled by appointments every hour.  Appointments are available Monday through Friday. 

How long does it take?

Patients are exercising for only 10-15 minutes.  Patients are in the lab about an hour for set-up, test explanation, exercise and recovery from exercise. 

When can I expect results from the testing, and how do I receive the results?

The test results are typically available within one business week. The test results are given or sent to the referring physician who will then contact the patient or parent / guardian. If the results reveal a problem needing urgent attention, the physician in charge will be notified before the patient leaves the Heart Institute.


Last Updated 11/2013