Pediatric Stress Test PatientThe Stress Lab at the St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Washington University Heart Center offers testing to better understand how your child’s heart and lungs respond to exercise. 

Tests performed in the state-of-the-art lab, also known as an exercise physiology lab, are often referred to as exercise or stress tests. Your child will be tested either using a treadmill or stationary bicycle. 

A multidisciplinary team of pediatric cardiologists, exercise physiologists and technologists, who all specialize in understanding how exercise affects the body when under stress, will evaluate your child’s response to exercise. Your medical team will receive the final results and evaluations to help in determining the best plan for continued care. 

The stress lab is specifically designed for pediatric patients, age 8 and older who are able to walk and run on a treadmill or pedal a bicycle. We treat a wide range of patients at the lab, from those who are healthy but experience chest pain, difficulty breathing or fainting to those who require advanced care for diagnosed heart disease. Testing is typically requested by your child’s pediatric cardiologist. 

What to expect during your child’s visit 

  • We know you and your child may be anxious, but you can expect your family to be treated in a respectful and welcoming manner to ensure everyone is comfortable.
  • Parents are welcome and encouraged to remain in the testing area and ask any questions. 
  • Your child will be tested using either a treadmill or stationary bicycle. He or she will be monitored during the test using an electrocardiogram or EKG machine that includes the use of small stickers or electrodes that are attached to your child’s chest to monitor their heart activity.
  • The test also monitors the level of oxygen in your child’s blood, blood pressure and using a mouthpiece or facemask.
  • We will ask your child to exercise until he or she is very tired, like they might while playing a sport.
  • Exercise testing is extremely safe. Your child will be constantly monitored for any signs of distress and asked questions about how they are feeling and whether they need to stop throughout the test.
  • The exercise portion of the test takes about 8 to 12 minutes, but the entire test can take about 45 minutes to 1 hour, which includes preparation and recovery time.
  • The test usually requires just one visit; however, if a cardiologist routinely follows a patient, the exercise test may be part of a regular evaluation, especially if your child wants to be active and/or involved in sports.

How to prepare your child for the test

  • Children should come prepared for exercise by wearing athletic, comfortable clothing and, most importantly, athletic shoes.
  • We ask that your child not participate in vigorous exercise 24 hours in advance, so he or she has the stamina to push themselves during the test.
  • Avoid a large meal two hours before the test. A light snack is fine if needed.
  • Your child should take his or her normal medications unless otherwise advised by their doctor.
  • Please arrive 15 minutes early prior to your appointment time to help prepare for the test and provide plenty of time to ask questions before we start.

Who performs the test and how are the results shared

  • If your child is healthy with minor symptoms, he or she will be joined by an exercise specialist and possibly another tech during the test.
  • If your child is a high-risk patient, perhaps with a known arrhythmia and defibrillator or they have a single ventricle or heart failure, there will also be a physician in the room to ensure a quick response to any concerns.
  • Test results are reviewed by either the director of the stress lab or a pediatric cardiologist with experience interpreting exercise tests and shared with your child’s referring cardiologist or specialist.
  • Although the results of the test may not be available to parents immediately, we encourage you to ask any questions about the test.

For more information regarding the Stress Lab for pediatric cardiac patients in St. Louis or to make an appointment, please call 314.454.5437 or 800.678.5437 or email us.