What is a stress echocardiogram? (Stress echo)

A Stress Echo is an ultrasound of your heart before and after exercise. This information is combined with an electrical recording of your heart rhythm (ECG) throughout the test to assess your heart’s response to exercise.

Why should I have a stress echocardiogram?

Your doctor may refer you for a stress echo to look for:

  1. Blockages in your heart arteries (Ischaemic Heart Disease)
  2. Assess the effectiveness of surgery eg Stent or Bypass Surgery
  3. Assess your Exercise Capacity
  4. Assess for any irregular heart rhythms that may be triggered by exercise.

How do I prepare for the stress echocardiogram?

Please wear comfortable loose clothing and closed in footwear.

Abstain from nicotine and caffeine on the day of your test.

Fast from food for 2 hours prior to your appointment.

Bring with you details of your medications and previous test results if you have them.

The test requires access to your chest, so we ask that you wear a top that can be removed easily.

Ladies will be required to remove their bra and will be given a gown.

Men may require areas of their chest to be shaved to ensure the sticky dots (electrodes) for the ECG can stick well to their skin.

What happens during the stress echocardiogram?

A baseline ECG and some medical history is first taken to ensure it is safe to proceed with the test. We use some rough sandpaper on areas of your chest so the ECG dots stick effectively to your skin. Next an ultrasound of your heart is taken with you lying on your left hand side.

Once your baseline images and ECG have been completed you will start walking very slowly on the treadmill. The treadmill increases in speed and incline every three minutes. The intensity of the treadmill exercise depends on your age, sex and heart rate response to exercise. Most people will be exercising to a brisk walk on an incline. Younger patients or those that are quite fit may break into a jog.

Your ECG, blood pressure and any symptoms are monitored throughout the test. When you have achieved an adequate exercise intensity the treadmill is stopped and your heart ultrasound is repeated.

How long does a stress echocardiogram take?

Your appointment will take approximately 45-60 minutes.

What are the risks of having a Stress Echo?


Stress testing is usually performed in patients with known or suspected coronary artery disease. While every effort is made to minimize the risks of the procedure, there is a small but definite risk of complications which you should be aware of. Be aware also that emergency equipment and trained personnel are available to deal with any complications that may arise.

Serious potential complications include the possibility of a major disturbance of heart rhythm requiring resuscitation, the development of heart failure or prolonged angina (heart pain), or the development of a heart attack. The risk of one of these occurring is approximately 2 or 3 in 10,000 tests. Unfortunately, there is also a very small risk of death occurring as a result of an exercise test. The chance of this in the average patient is approximately 1 in 10,000 although the risks both of complications and of death may be higher in patients who are already known to have severe coronary disease.

The doctor performing the test is well aware of these risks and will have taken them into account before deciding to recommend the study. Please feel free to discuss these issues prior to agreeing to undergo the exercise stress test.

Signed consent

Before proceeding with the test we need your signed consent. The signing of this form is voluntary however the test cannot proceed without your signed consent.  Please feel free to ask any questions you have about exercise stress testing and about any risks and benefits.

What happens after I have a stress echocardiogram?

Your results will be forwarded to your GP. If there are any urgent concerns with your test an appointment with one of our cardiologists will be scheduled for you.