Treadmills Vs. Chemical Stress Tests

A stress test is a clinical standard often used to detect coronary artery disease. Traditionally, this test is performed on the treadmill. Modern advances in technology allow physicians to administer it without making the patient do any physical work, via chemical means. Please consult with your physician for specific information.

Treadmill Stress Test

Although there are a number of treadmill options available to physicians, the Bruce protocol is the method used most often. It involves walking on the treadmill at a predetermined intensity based off of your fitness level. Every three minutes the speed will be increased. This continues until you reach 85 percent of the age-predicted maximal heart rate. The doctor may stop the test early if you display any adverse signs.

Chemical Stress Test

In the "Journal of Nuclear Medicine" Dr. Jeffery Leppo discusses why a chemical stress test may be administered in favor over the treadmill stress test. Those with vascular disease, respiratory disease, orthopedic problems, arthritis, taking certain medications, or who lack motivation are ideal chemical candidates. The chemical stress test induces a stimulated physiological state without exercise. Common medications used include dipyridamole, dobutamine, and Adenosine. The physician will start an intravenous line in your arm. Medication is supplied until 85 percent of your age-predicted maximum heart rate has been reached. If dobutamine is used, the test may take four minutes.


Dr. San Roman and colleagues investigated whether one method is more accurate than the other in a 1998 study published in "Heart" journal. They determined that there is no significant difference between methods. The treadmill stress test will most likely be administered if you are physically able.


Preparation for the treadmill or the chemical stress test is similar. For the three hours leading up to the procedure, abstain from eating. Wear comfortable clothing and shoes suitable for exercise. Also, the intake of specific heart medications, e.g., beta blockers, may need to be ceased a few days before the test.


The physiological response to either test is comparable to jogging around your neighborhood. The clinical setting ensures that if something does go wrong, plenty of help is available. The medication used during the chemical stress test may cause nausea or a headache, but these symptoms can be stopped upon test cessation.

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