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Exercise Electrocardiogram (ECG) Testing in Children

What is an exercise electrocardiogram test?

Electrocardiography (ECG) is a simple, fast test to check the electrical activity of your child's heart as blood moves through it. Abnormal ECG results may mean there is a problem with your child's heart.

An exercise ECG checks the electrical activity during exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike. This test is seldom done on young children. But it may be very useful in teens and young adults.

Why might my child need an exercise ECG?

Your child’s healthcare provider may want to do an exercise ECG if your child was born with or has symptoms of a heart problem. It may also be advised if your child has an irregular heart rhythm or changes in a resting ECG.

What are the risks of an exercise ECG?

Most children have very low risk for problems with exercise ECG testing.

How do I get my child ready for an exercise ECG?

Have you child wear shoes and comfortable clothing so he or she will be able to exercise during the test.

What happens during an exercise ECG?

The test is done in a healthcare provider's office, hospital, or another place. The equipment used includes an ECG machine, electrodes, and wires. The wires connect the electrodes to the ECG machine. A blood pressure cuff  is also used to check your child's blood pressure during exercise. Your child will exercise on a treadmill or stationary bike.

Exercise ECG testing usually follows these steps:

  • Your child will have a "baseline" ECG and blood pressure readings before starting to exercise. 
  • He or she will walk on the treadmill or pedal the bike. 
  • During the test, your child may need to exercise harder.
  • His or her heart, blood pressure, and symptoms are watched closely. 
  • Your child will be asked to exercise to the best of his or her ability. 
  • After the exercise, your child's heart and blood pressure are checked for a short time, perhaps for 10 to 15 minutes.

The test will take about an hour, including check-in, preparation, and the test.

What happens after an exercise ECG?

Your child may feel a little tired or sore after the test, particularly if he or she is not used to exercising. Otherwise, your child should feel normal after the test.

Depending on the results of the exercise ECG, your child’s healthcare provider may order more tests.

Next steps

Before you agree to the test or the procedure for your child make sure you know:
  • The name of the test or procedure
  • The reason your child is having the test or procedure
  • The risks and benefits of the test or procedure
  • When and where your child is to have the test or procedure and who will do it
  • When and how will you get the results
  • How much will you have to pay for the test or procedure
Online Medical Reviewer: Bass, Pat F. III, MD, MPH
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Date Last Reviewed: 3/30/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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