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Pulmonary Exercise Stress Test

This test tells how much air moves in and out of your lungs when you exercise. During the test, you may be asked to walk on a treadmill or ride on a stationary bike. The test may show exactly where your breathing problems begin. They may begin in your lungs, your heart, or both. Your test results can also show a safe activity level for you.

Before the test

Allow at least 30 minutes to check in. Get ready for the test as directed. You may be told to do any of the following:

  • Follow any directions you are given for not eating, drinking, or smoking before the test. If you have diabetes, ask what you may eat or drink before the test.

  • Tell your provider about all the medicines you take. This includes prescription and over-the-counter medicines, vitamins, herbs, and other supplements. You may need to stop taking certain medicines before the test. Ask your provider if there are any medicines you can keep taking. This may include medicine to help your breathing.

  • Tell your provider if you have any upper respiratory conditions. These include a cold, sinusitis, bronchitis, or pneumonia.

  • Don't exercise the morning before the test.

  • Wear comfortable exercise clothing and walking shoes, such as tennis shoes.

  • Wear your dentures, if you have them. 

Man with wires attached to chest walking on treadmill. Wires go to machine next to treadmill. Healthcare provider is monitoring machine. Man has tube in mouth and nose pinched shut. Another healthcare provider is taking man's blood pressure.

During the test

Small pads (electrodes) placed on your upper body will check your heart rate. A device clipped to your finger will measure the amount of oxygen in your blood. You will also wear nose clips and breathe through a mouthpiece:

  • Before you start to exercise, a breathing test (spirometry) may be done. This will measure the amount of air you breathe in (inhale) and breathe out (exhale) while at rest.

  • While you exercise, your heart rate, breathing, and blood pressure are checked. Exercise as long as you can. When the test is over, keep the mouthpiece in place until you are told to remove it.

  • During this test, blood samples may be taken. This is done to measure oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood during exercise.

After the test

You can return to your normal diet, activity, and medicines. If you were told to skip medicines before the test, ask if you should take them now. Your healthcare provider will discuss the test results with you at your next visit.

Risks and possible complications

Like many tests, this test has some risks. They may include:

  • Shortness of breath or wheezing

  • Rise or fall in blood pressure

  • Fainting, dizziness, or tiredness (fatigue)

  • Abnormal heartbeat or heart rate

  • Heart attack or stroke (rare)

Online Medical Reviewer: Alan J Blaivas DO
Online Medical Reviewer: Daphne Pierce-Smith RN MSN CCRC
Online Medical Reviewer: Marianne Fraser MSN RN
Date Last Reviewed: 11/1/2019
© 2000-2020 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.