Taking Care of Your Heart

Stress Echocardiogram

What is a stress echocardiogram?

A treadmill stress echo combines a standard treadmill stress test with ultrasound imaging of the heart muscle immediately following exercise. Stress echo has become a useful study to detect coronary artery disease and to assess the risks factors of patients with known disease.


Should I take my medication on the day of the test?

DO NOT take the following heart medications on the day of your test unless your physician tells you otherwise or if it is needed to treat chest discomfort the day of the test:


  • Beta blockers [for example: atenolol (Tenormin), carvedilol (Coreg), metoprolol (Lopressor, Toprol), Propranolol (Inderal)]
  • Isosorbide dinitrate (for example: Dilatrate, Isordil, Sorbitrate)
  • Isosorbide mononitrate (for example: Ismo, Imdur, Monoket)
  • Nitroglycerin (for example: Minitran, Nitropatches, Nitrostat)

Your physician may also ask you to stop taking other heart medications on the day of your test. If you have any questions about your medications, ask your physician. If you use an inhaler for your breathing, please bring it to the test.

What happens during the test?

First, a medical assistant will gently rub ten small areas on your chest and place electrodes (small, flat, sticky patches) on these areas. The electrodes are attached to an electrocardiograph (EKG) monitor that charts your heart’s electrical activity during the test. Before you start exercising, the medical assistent will perform a resting EKG, measure your resting heart rate and take your blood pressure. The sonographer will ask you to lie on your left side on an exam table so he or she can perform a resting echocardiogram. An echocardiogram is a graphic outline of the heart’s movement created from ultrasound vibrations echoed from the heart’s structures. The sonographer will place a wand (called a transducer) on your chest to view an outline of the heart’s movement. After the echo test, you will exercise on a treadmill. The lab personnel will ask you to start exercising and will gradually increase the intensity of exercise. You will be asked to continue exercising until you are exhausted. At regular intervals, the medical assistant will ask how you are feeling. Please tell them if you feel chest, arm or jaw pain or discomfort; short of breath, dizzy, lightheaded or if you have any other unusual symptoms. The medical assistant will watch for any changes on the EKG monitor that suggest the test should be stopped. When you can not exercise any longer, you will get off the treadmill,* quickly return to the exam table and lie on your left side so the sonographer can perform another echocardiogram. After the test, you will walk slowly for a few minutes to cool down. Your heart rate, blood pressure and EKG will continue to be monitored until the levels are returning to normal.


How long does the test take?

The appointment will take about 60 minutes. The actual exercise time is usually between 7 and 12 minutes.