What is a low-level exercise tolerance test after a heart attack?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
Some people who have uneventful recoveries after a heart attack may undergo a low-level exercise tolerance test before leaving the hospital. You might get one if you did not have angioplasty or if you have several blocked arteries of unknown severity. The low-level test differs from the conventional exercise tolerance test in that you stop exercising after a predetermined number of minutes of low-level exercise on a treadmill, even if you show no problems or symptoms. The goal of this limited exercise test is to determine whether you are sufficiently stable to resume a reduced level of physical activity at home. If the test is negative -- that is, it reveals no problems -- you'll be able to go home. The exercise test can also help you learn how much exertion is safe and appropriate during the next phase of the healing period. Most people are reassured to learn that the period of imminent danger has passed and that they can resume a fairly normal life over a period of several weeks.

A low-level exercise test that reveals abnormalities -- such as chest pain, fluctuations in heart rhythms, or changes in blood pressure -- generally indicates that parts of the heart remain at risk for further damage. In such cases, cardiologists may suggest cardiac catheterization, which can reveal whether angioplasty or coronary artery bypass surgery might improve blood flow to the heart and reduce the chances of another heart attack.

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