Pulmonary Exercise Test FAQ

If you’re frequently out of breath, your doctor may use a pulmonary exercise test to determine what’s causing it.



What is a pulmonary exercise test used for?

A pulmonary exercise test, also called a pulmonary stress test, can help your doctor assess why you become short of breath. It’s used to assess your general physical condition, how your body responds to exercise and how much exercise is safe for you.

The test measures your:

  • Heart rate and rhythm.
  • Blood pressure and the amount of oxygen and carbon dioxide in your blood.
  • Exhaled air composition and breathing patterns.

How is the test performed?

You’ll exercise on a stationary bike or a treadmill, and we’ll ask you to gradually increase your effort. You’ll wear special equipment to provide measurement during the test, including:

  • Face mask. You’ll wear a mask over your mouth and nose — it won’t restrict your breathing and will allow you to breathe in air from your surrounding environment. This monitors your oxygen intake, breathing pattern and how much carbon dioxide you produce.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) leads. The technologist will place several stickers with electrodes, attached to monitoring wires, on your chest to monitor your heart rate and rhythm.
  • Blood pressure cuff. Your blood pressure will be recorded throughout the test.
  • Pulse oximeter. Placed on the tip of your finger, this small device measures the oxygen level (oxygen saturation) in your blood.

How long will the test take?

The test can take from one to three hours, depending on the measurements your doctor orders. The exercise portion of the test is usually about 10 to 15 minutes, and the remainder of the time is needed for equipment setup and post-procedure evaluation.

What are the risks?

The test poses very little risk. However, in some instances, people may have an unusual response to exercise that can include abnormal changes in blood pressure and heart rhythm, difficulty in breathing, fainting or dizziness, or muscle cramping. To assure your safety during the test, your doctor and a respiratory therapist will monitor you while you exercise.

Are there any activities I should avoid before the test?

Follow these guidelines before your test:

  • Avoid vigorous exercise two hours before your appointment.
  • Avoid all heavy or rich foods for at least six hours before your appointment. If you eat before your test, eat only light, easily digestible floods. Don’t eat anything an hour before your appointment.
  • Avoid alcohol, caffeinated food or drinks (coffee, tea, cola or chocolate) and smoking 12 hours before your test.

Can I still take my regular medications before the test?

Yes. Unless your doctor tells you otherwise, continue to take your medications as usual.

What should I wear?

Wear comfortable clothing, such as loosely fitting sweatpants, shorts or slacks. You may be given a hospital gown to wear as a shirt. Wear athletic shoes, such as tennis, walking or running shoes. Shoes should be rubber soled and cover your entire foot — don’t wear sandals or open-toed shoes.

Is there any paperwork I need to fill out before I come in for my test?

Be sure to download and fill out our pre-admission and medication forms.

Where do I go for the test?

How and when will I get the results of my test?

Your doctor will receive a copy of the results 48 to 72 after the test and will share them with you.