Treadmill Test

Your child's doctor has asked that your child complete a treadmill test. A treadmill test is a type of exercise test

What is an exercise test?

An exercise te​st tells your child's doctor if your child's heart beats in a regular way when they do things like walk, run and ride a bicycle. These tests give information that your child's doctor cannot measure while your child sits or rests. 

What is the treadmill test?​​​

The treadmill test shows how your child's heart beats during exercise. A treadmill is a short moving sidewalk. Your child will be asked to walk and then run on the treadmill as it gets faster and steeper. Your child's heartbeat and blood pressure are measured during the test.

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1: Blood pressure cuff, 2: Electrocardiograph (ECG) Sensor, 3: Blood pressure sensor, 4: Treadmill, 5: ECG monitor, 6: Leads to ECG

Your child should sleep well and eat a good breakfast before the test

To get ready for the exercise test, your child should do the following:

  • Your child should be well rested the night before the test.
  • Your child should eat a good breakfast on the day of the test. A good breakfast includes servings of grains, protein, and fruit. One example of a good breakfast is egg, peanut butter, or cheese; toast; juice or fruit; and milk.
  • Your child should finish eating 1 to 2 hours before they start the test.
  • Your child should wear or bring a T-shirt, shorts, non-slip, closed toe, running shoes and socks for the test.

Who will give the treadmill test?

Two technologists will give your child the treadmill test. Technologists are people who are trained to give the test on the machines in the hospital.

Machines will measure your child's blood pressure and heartbeat

To prepare your child for the treadmill test, the technologist will do the following things:

  • The technologist will put a sleeve called a blood pressure cuff on your child's arm. The blood pressure cuff will be used to check how hard your child's heart is pumping during the test.
  • Your child will be hooked up to a computer called an electrocardiography machine (ECG machine). The ECG machine records your child's heart beats during physical activity.

Connecting your child to the ECG

Here are the steps the technologist will follow to hook your child up to the ECG:

  1. The technologist will wipe the skin on your child's chest with water. This is to make sure the skin is very clean.
  2. The technologist will gently rub the cleaned skin with a scratchy pad. This will make it easier for the stickers to stay on and provide a good picture of your child's heartbeat.
  3. The technologist will put 10 stickers, called electrodes, on your child's chest.
  4. The technologist will attach one end of a wire to each electrode and the other end of each wire to the ECG machine.

Your child will walk and run on the treadmill

Your child will step onto the treadmill, which will be moving very slowly at first. A technologist will always be close behind your child for safety.

Every 3 minutes, one of the technologists will check your child's blood pressure and record an ECG picture, called an electrocardiogram. The treadmill will get faster and steeper every three minutes. Your child will have to walk faster until he or she is eventually running. The test lasts between nine and 12 minutes depending on your child's age and activity level.

The purpose of this test is to push  your child to their maximum level of exertion. The test is over when the technologist and your child agree that he or she can't keep going. The technologist will then slow the treadmill down to a walking speed. This will allow your child's heart to slow down to its normal speed. This is called cooling down.

Your child will rest for 8 minutes while his or her blood pressure and heartbeat go back to normal. While your child is resting, the technologist will measure your child's heart rate and blood pressure. The test is then over.

Your child should let the technologist know if he or she has problems during the test

Your child should tell the technologist right away if he or she has any of the following problems during the test:

  • pain in the chest
  • trouble breathing
  • dizziness
  • heartbeat feels irregular
  • tired legs

If the technologists see a problem during the test, they will tell the cardiologist right away.

You may be able to stay with your child during the test

You can discuss with the technologist if it is best for your child if you stay. You must not talk to your child during the test so that he can concentrate.

If your child has had an operation on the artery carrying blood to the body, the test will be slightly different

Some children have had an operation to widen the main blood vessel that carries blood from the heart. This operation is called a coarctation of the aorta repair. If your child has had this operation, the technologists will check the difference in blood pressure between your child's arm and leg.

The technologists will put blood pressure cuffs on your child's arm and leg. They will check the difference in blood pressure at rest, at peak exercise, and several times while your child is resting after the test. The technologists will also use a machine called a Doppler. The Doppler helps the technologists detect your child's blood pressure.

You will hear about the test results in 10 to 14 days

A cardiologist who specializes in reading exercise tests will look at all of the information from the test and write a report.

Your child's cardiologist will get this report of the test results in about 10 to 14 days. You will get the results from your child's cardiologist.

If you see your child's cardiologist on or shortly before the day of the test, he or she will tell you how and when you will get the test results.

Key points

  • The treadmill test tells your child's doctor if your child's heart beats in a regular way during exercise.
  • The test uses machines to measure your child's blood pressure and heartbeat while your child walks and runs on a treadmill.
  • Your child should let the technologist know right away if he or she has pain in the chest, trouble breathing, dizziness, irregular heartbeat, or tired legs during the test.

Gareth Smith, MSc
Jennifer Russell, MD, FRCPC
Carrie Heffernan, RN, BScN, MN
Jennifer Kilburn, BScN, MN


At SickKids:

The test is done on the 4th floor of the hospital on ward 4B. Please register at the 4B desk.