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JAMA Cardiology Patient Page
December 2016

Should I Have an Exercise Stress Test?

JAMA Cardiol. 2016;1(9):1084. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2016.3761

Exercise tests are performed for varied reasons, such as evaluating fitness, assessing heart rate and blood pressure responses to stress, investigating symptoms such as chest discomfort or breathlessness, and assisting in diagnosis of conditions such as blockages in the coronary arteries.

Because many individuals with heart conditions have exertional symptoms, an exercise test can reveal abnormalities and electrocardiographic changes when these symptoms occur that are not apparent at rest. However, exercise tests are unable to detect early plaque in a coronary artery that is not yet blocking blood flow, and thus their accuracy in detecting heart disease remains imperfect. Despite these limitations, exercise testing may be useful to evaluate your overall heart health in specific situations. One very important piece of information is simply how long and to what level of work you can exercise. Your fitness and heart health can be estimated by the duration and the highest treadmill speed and incline you can achieve. In general, people who have higher fitness levels are at lower risk for a heart attack.