Cardiopulmonary Exercise Testing (CPET)

Cardiopulmonary exercise testing (CPET), also known as a pediatric stress test, is a valuable tool for gaining information about a child’s heart function and aerobic fitness.

Pediatric cardiologists with Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the UofL School of Medicine, usually conduct heart tests while the child is resting. But children rarely rest that much. CPET can give your child’s physicians information about how the heart responds when the child is active.

The test provides information that helps to define how a child’s heart responds to various levels of exercise. During CPET, changes are recorded in your child’s heart rhythm, heart rate, blood pressure, heart function and other measurements while your child exercises.

Depending on your child’s needs, age or ability, the CPET may be done on a treadmill or stationary bike. The treadmill test takes place in stages. The treadmill will speed up or slow down, and be raised or lowered while the child walks on it. Tests performed on the bike will gradually increase the pedaling resistance — how much work the child has to do to move the pedals.

During the test, your child will wear:

  • Blood pressure cuff: It will inflate around your child’s arm at various times during the test to measure your child’s blood pressure at different levels of exercise
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG) electrodes: These will be attached to your child’s chest with self-adhesive patches. They will monitor your child’s heart rate and rhythm.
  • Mouthpiece and/or nose clip: Your child will wear one or both of these to measure breathing and oxygen volume.

The test takes about 45 minutes, with 15 minutes of that time as the exercise part of the test. Shortness of breath and tired muscles — similar to what happens during an intense workout — is to be expected.

Preparing for a Pediatric Stress Test

  • Your child should have a light meal at least two hours before the test. In the two hours before the test, your child should not eat anything, but it’s OK to drink clear liquids.
  • Your child should wear running shoes and comfortable clothes, such as a T-shirt and shorts or sweatpants.
  • Older children and teens may want to bring an extra shirt to wear after the test.
  • During the test, encourage your child to exercise as hard as he or she can. Reassure your child that the exercise isn’t harmful. Providers will be monitoring your child as the exercise gets harder.

Why Choose Norton Children’s Heart Institute

The Adult Congenital Heart Association has recognized Norton Children's Heart Institute for its expertise treating adult congenital heart disease.

  • Norton Children’s Hospital has been a pioneer in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery, performing Kentucky’s first pediatric heart transplant in 1986 and becoming the second site in the United States to perform an infant heart transplant.
  • The American Board of Thoracic Surgery has certified our cardiothoracic surgeons in congenital heart surgery.
  • The Adult Congenital Heart Association has accredited Norton Children’s Heart Institute’s Adult Congenital Heart Program as the only comprehensive care center in Kentucky and Indiana treating adults born with a heart defect.
  • More than 5,000 children a year visit Norton Children’s Heart Institute for advanced heart care.
  • Norton Children’s Heart Institute has offices across Kentucky and Southern Indiana to bring quality pediatric heart care closer to home.
  • The Jennifer Lawrence Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) at Norton Children’s Hospital is the largest dedicated CICU in Kentucky, equipped with 17 private rooms and the newest technology available for heart care.
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