Exercise Stress Echocardiogram

What is an exercise stress echocardiogram?

A stress echocardiogram is a test that uses ultrasound imaging to assess the response of your heart to stress [ie exercise], which indirectly allows assessment of potential significant blockage in your heart arteries.

Why do you need an exercise stress echocardiogram?

Your doctor may order this test if you:

  • Have any new symptoms of angina or chest pain
  • Have previously had a heart attack
  • Are going to have surgery and are at high risk for heart disease
  • Have heart valve problems

How is the test performed?

A resting echocardiogram will be performed first. This will check how your heart functions when resting. You lie on your left side. A small device called a transducer is held against your chest. To ensure that good contact is made between your skin and the probe, surgical jelly is used at several different sites on your chest. .

The second part of the test involves walking on a treadmill. Every 3 minutes the speed and incline of the treadmill will increase. This makes your heart work harder. It is like being asked to walk fast or jog up a hill. In most cases you will need to walk or pedal for around 5 to 15 minutes, depending on your level of fitness and your age.

Your blood pressure and heart rhythm [ECG] will be monitored throughout the procedure. The blood pressure cuff on your arm will be inflated — every 3 minutes, producing a squeezing sensation that may feel tight, to check your blood pressure.

More echocardiogram images will be taken immediately after you finish walking on the treadmill. The images will show whether any parts of the heart muscle do not work as well when your heart rate increases. This is a sign that part of the heart may not be getting enough blood or oxygen because of narrowed or blocked arteries.

The test will be stopped when either you or the doctor feels it is unsafe for you to continue. The Doctor may also stop the test when you have done enough.

What if you can't exercise on a treadmill?

If you are not able to exercise you can still have a stress test using a drug called dobutamine (through IV line) to stress your heart, see the Dobutamine Stress Echocardiogram page for more information.

How to prepare for the test 

Ask your doctor if you should take any of your routine medication on the day of the test. Some medications may interfere with test results. Bring a list of ALL medications that you are currently taking with you to the appointment. Never stop taking any medications without first talking to your Doctor.

  • Do not eat or drink for at least 3 hours before the test. Do not eat a large meal prior to the 3 hour fast.
  • Wear loose comfortable clothing and wear comfortable non-slip shoes suitable for riding a bike or for walking.
  • Do not do any strenuous exercise on the day prior to the procedure.
  • You will be asked to sign a consent form before the test.

What are the risks?

 The risks are low. In recommending this procedure, your doctor has balanced the benefits and risks of the procedure against the benefits and risks of not proceeding. He believes that there is a benefit to you going ahead. You will be monitored during the entire procedure by your Doctor.

There are some possible risks and complications. These may include but are not limited to to the following:

  • Mild angina
  • Shortness of breath
  • Musculoskeletal discomfort
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Fainting (syncope)
  • Heart attack


In some cases patients may require contrast to enhance the quality and clarity of their echo pictures.  The charge for contrast is not rebateable by Medicare or healthfunds.  The price for contrast is at cost.  Should you require contrast or would like to know what the charge would be, please contact our reception staff.