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 University of Louisville, 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 Norton Children’s Heart Institute?

Norton Children’s Heart Institute, affiliated with the University of Louisville, is a comprehensive pediatric heart surgery, heart failure and heart transplant program serving Kentucky, Southern Indiana and beyond.

The goal of the full-service Norton Children’s Heart Institute is to provide care for the child and the whole family. Our specialists are prepared to repair even the most complex congenital and acquired heart conditions.

Our heart team includes:

  • Pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons
  • Pediatric transplant surgeons
  • Pediatric cardiologists
    • Fetal cardiologists
    • Adult congenital heart cardiologists
    • Heart failure/heart transplant cardiologists
    • Pediatric electrophysiologists
    • Pediatric cardiac catheterization cardiologists
  • Pediatric cardiovascular anesthesiologists
  • Pediatric intensive care physicians
  • Cardiac critical care nurses
  • Critical care pharmacists
  • Family support team
  • Child life specialists
  • Rehabilitation specialists
  • Social workers
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Norton Children’s Heart Institute

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