Exercise (Stress) Test for Children

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.

Description of Exercise Testing

Based on the individual's needs, age or ability, the exercise may be carried out on a treadmill or a stationary bike. On the treadmill, the test consists of progressive stages that vary in speed and elevation. Tests performed on the bike consist of progressive increases in pedaling resistance over time.

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

An electrocardiogram (EKG) consisting of 10 electrodes attached to the chest and torso is used to monitor the heart rate and rhythm.

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

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

Common Questions & Answers

Is the exercise test painful or uncomfortable?

The exercise test will likely cause fatigue, mainly to the legs, and cause the patient to breath more heavily over time. Generally the patient should not feel pain or discomfort. Use of a mouthpiece and nose clip may feel uncomfortable. There are times, however, that your doctor orders an exercise study to understand why you have pain or discomfort during daily activities. Exercise testing in these cases are done to evaluate the causes of pain/discomfort and obtain information regarding your safety to exercise.

Is the exercise test risky or dangerous?

There are risks and dangers of every test. Complications, however, rarely occur. You will be monitored continuously during the test. If there are any significant safety concerns, the test will be stopped. The exercise testing staff is equipped and trained to handle all emergency situations.

An exercise test may have been ordered to better understand what your risks/dangers are at home, work, or at school.

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

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

Contact Us

Contact Cincinnati Children's Heart Institute

Last Updated 01/2021

Reviewed By Wayne Mays, Clinical Manager

Locations Close to Home

Learn more about visiting Cincinnati Children's.

The Heart Institute has more than 20 outpatient heart locations in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana.

Find a Location