Exercise tests and congenital heart conditions

PDF download is not available for Arabic and Urdu languages at this time. Please use the browser print function instead

Learn about exercise tests. An exercise test, or ECG, is a diagnostic procedure that records the way a child's heart works when they exercise.

Key points

  • An exercise test shows how your child's heart and lungs respond when they exercise and helps a cardiologist see problems with the heart.
  • There are 3 different kinds of exercise tests: the treadmill test, the VO2 max test, and the 6-minute walk test.
  • Your child will wear a vest with wires and stickers called electrodes, which attach to an electrocardiograph monitor.

This page explains what happens during an exercise test and how they can help cardiologists make a diagnosis.

What is an exercise test?

An exercise test uses an electrocardiogram to record the way your child’s heart works when they exercise. It can help the cardiologist see any problems with your child’s heart. An exercise test can also show the doctor how your child’s lungs work during exercise. An exercise test is sometimes called an exercise electrocardiogram, an exercise ECG, or a stress test.

There are three different kinds of exercise tests. They are called the treadmill test, the VO2 max test, and the 6-minute walk test.

How should your child prepare for an exercise test?

Your child should have a good sleep the night before the test. On the day of the test, you should bring their shorts and running shoes with you to the hospital. Your child should not eat heavily for at least 2 hours before the test. But a good breakfast is important.

How is the exercise test done?

You and your child will be taken to the exercise room by the technician. There is a place for you to wait and watch the test. Please do not talk to your child during the actual test.

Stickers called electrodes will be put on your child’s chest and attached to an electrocardiograph monitor. Your child may be given a vest to wear to hold the stickers and wires in place. A blood pressure cuff will be put on one arm to check your child’s blood pressure.

Treadmill test

The treadmill test shows how your child’s heart beats during exercise. A treadmill is a short moving sidewalk.

What will your child have to do?

The technician will show your child what to do. The test includes 4 steps:

  • Your child will stand with 1 foot on either side of the moving sidewalk or treadmill. They will then step onto the treadmill, which will be moving slowly.
  • Every 3 minutes, the technician will check your child's blood pressure and record an electrocardiogram. Then both the speed and the slope of the treadmill will be increased so that your child will have to walk faster and, eventually, run to keep up.
  • When your child has run as long as possible, he will raise his left hand. The technician will slow the treadmill to a walk to allow a cool-down period.
  • Your child will rest for 6 minutes while their blood pressure and heart rate are checked every 2 or 3 minutes. The stickers will then be removed and the test will be over.

What is a VO2 max test?

The VO2 max test shows how well your child’s heart and lungs work during exercise. Your child will be asked to walk on a treadmill or ride a stationary bicycle while breathing through a mouthpiece. Before this test your child will be asked to do a breathing test called a pulmonary function test. This test measures how fast your child can blow out. It also measures how much air they can breathe in and out in 15 seconds. The VO2 max test is used in children generally over the age of 6.

What is a 6-minute walk test?

The 6-minute walk test shows how well your child’s heart works and how much oxygen is in their blood during exercise. Your child will be asked to walk up and down a hall for 6 minutes. The total amount they walk will be recorded.

Last updated: December 11th 2009