A treadmill stress test is something that you might be asked to complete if a doctor wants to monitor how your heart copes during exercise.

As your heart will be working harder to keep up with you, the stress test can show whether there are any issues with how your blood is reaching your heart. 

There are a few different types of stress tests, but the treadmill version is the most common.

You will be hooked up to a few machines that will be monitoring your heart rhythm, breathing, and blood pressure. 

How Long is a Treadmill Stress Test

Being told that you need a stress test can be a difficult time if you don’t know what to expect.

If you’re not a very active person as it is, or you have a busy schedule that you don’t want to disrupt too much, you might want to know how long you’re going to be exercising for. 

Today we’re going to be looking at the treadmill stress test, how long it lasts, and how you can prepare for your appointment. 

How long is a treadmill stress test?

A treadmill stress test will last around an hour, but this includes the preparation time as well. The time that you’ll be exercising is only around 15 minutes.

You will be walking on the treadmill for only a quarter of the time you’ll be at your appointment, so it is nothing to worry about. 

The other 45 minutes will be taken up by the doctor asking you questions about your health, medical history, and usual exercise routine.

If you don’t exercise regularly, don’t embellish these answers. The doctor will adjust the stress test to how often you exercise normally. 

If you have embellished your answers you might find that your stress test is too difficult for your body to handle.

So, answer the questions truthfully so that you’re not accidentally put in danger. The doctor will also have a quick listen to your heart and lungs before the test. 

What happens during a treadmill stress test?

After the initial preparation and the questions have been answered, a nurse will help you to get ready for your test.

There will be electrodes stuck onto your chest, arms, and legs. These are little sticky patches that won’t fall off during the test.

If you have particularly hairy skin, you might need to be shaved to get the electrodes to stick properly. 

The electrodes connect to an electrocardiogram machine that records your heartbeat.

You’ll also have a blood pressure cuff secured onto your arm to measure how this changes.

Some people are even asked to breathe into a tube so that the doctors can monitor the lungs during exercise. 

You’ll be asked to step onto the treadmill and the physician will start the machine at a slow pace.

During the 15 minutes, they will steadily increase the speed of the treadmill. Don’t worry, they won’t turn it up to maximum speed within seconds of you starting! 

You will continue to exercise until you reach the target that the physicians agreed upon or you begin feeling symptoms that require you to stop.

These include shortness of breath, dizziness, severe chest pain, as well as a few more. 

Now that you have finished exercising the doctor will ask you to stay standing for a few seconds before lying down with the machines still attached to you.

This way the doctor can ensure that there is nothing concerning how your heart returns to its resting rate. 

What are stress tests looking for?

There are several reasons why your doctor might recommend a stress test for you.

They might also recommend that you have other tests done alongside the stress test, such as a nuclear stress test or an echocardiographic stress test.

These are simply stress tests with imaging. 

Diagnosing heart rhythm issues

Arrhythmias are where your electrical impulses coordinate with the heart rhythm incorrectly.

These force your heart to beat too quickly or too slowly. Alternatively, you might get irregular heartbeats (palpitations). Diagnosing these issues can help you get the correct treatment. 

Guiding treatment for heart disorders

If you have a heart condition already diagnosed but the doctors aren’t sure how to treat it, a stress test can help them see how effective a treatment is for your body.

Knowing how much exercise your heart can handle is another good method of determining how to go forward when it comes to treatment. 

Sometimes stress tests can decide whether someone needs a heart transplant or not.

The results can be used to get someone on the transplant list and one step closer to health. The test can also indicate the best time to give someone heart surgery, such as a valve replacement. 

Diagnosing coronary heart disease

The coronary arteries are the major vessels supplying your heart with blood and oxygen.

As they are so important to the body, having them damaged or diseased can be very dangerous. 

They are most likely to be damaged by blockages of cholesterol.

A stress test can help determine whether you have coronary heart disease or not so that you can get treatment as soon as possible. 

How can I prepare for a treadmill stress test?

Your doctor will more than likely give you some advice on how to prepare for your treadmill stress test.

You might be asked to avoid eating and drinking before the test, and you’ll be asked to not smoke. Caffeine might also be off-limits for the day of your test.

Make sure that your clothes are comfortable and your shoes are good for walking. 

Summary

Being told that you need a stress test can be worrying, but don’t fret about it too much.

The exercising portion of the test will only last for around 15 minutes, with the entire test taking around an hour. 

The stress test can diagnose a few important heart diseases as well as helping the doctors to find you a good treatment plan for your condition.

Make sure that you prepare properly for your stress test and answer all of the physicians’ questions correctly. 

About the author

I'm Jamie and I test out new models in sports retailers, or buy and sell them new or second hand so I can review a wide range of models and put together the best advise on which treadmill is right for you. So if you are looking for a cheap treadmill for walking, a gym quality treadmill to run sprints, or something in-between I can point you in the right direction.