Tal Klatchko, D.O.

Pulmonary & Critical Care
Roper-St. Francis Hospital
Charleston, South Carolina

Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test

Heart, lung, and metabolic conditions may cause shortness of breath, exercise intolerance or discomfort and pain in the chest.

The Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test is a stress test that assesses how well the heart, lungs, and muscles are working individually, and how these systems are working in unison.

The full cardiopulmonary system is assessed during a CPET by measuring the amount of oxygen your body is using, the amount of carbon dioxide it is producing, your breathing pattern, and electrocardiogram (EKG) while you are riding a stationary bicycle.

How is a Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test performed?

Unlike a traditional stress test, the CPET is performed on a stationary bicycle, which is safer than a treadmill. Many patients also feel more comfortable riding the bicycle than walking on a treadmill.

During the test various pieces of equipment will be used to monitor your body’s response. This equipment includes:

  • Face mask: This monitors the oxygen used, carbon dioxide produced, and the breathing pattern. The mask is placed over the mouth and nose (similar to an airplane pilot’s mask). It does not restrict breathing and you will only be breathing-in air from the environment.
  • Electrocardiogram (EKG): Ten stickers will be placed on your chest with monitoring wires attached. This is used to monitor your heart rate and rhythm.
  • Blood pressure cuff: Your blood pressure will be taken multiple times during the test.
  • Pulse oximeter: This is a small device that slides over your finger and uses a light to measure the percentage of blood cells covered with oxygen.

Before exercise begins, you will be asked to perform 2 lung tests. The results of these tests will be compared to your breathing during exercise.

Your technician will then fit the required equipment to you and help you get on the bicycle.

While you are resting on the bicycle, your technician will explain the testing procedure in greater detail.

At the end of the rest period, you will be asked to begin pedaling lightly for a few minutes, to warm up.

The resistance on the bicycle will then slowly become harder and harder as if you were going up a hill that keeps gently getting steeper and steeper.

The test will continue until you are giving your maximum effort and can no longer continue.

The actual time it takes to perform the test, from the time you get on the bike, through the exercise portion and recovery will be between 15 and 25 minutes. However, you will only be asked to exercise at a hard intensity for about 3 to 4 minutes.

Additional tips for a successful test:

  • Give your best effort and exercise for as long and hard as possible.
  • Keep your legs moving at the same speed for the entire test, even when it is difficult.
  • Avoid speaking during the test unless you have discomfort or pain.
  • Let the technician know if you have discomfort or pain at any point during the test.

How should I prepare for my Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test?
Since you will be exercising, be sure to wear comfortable clothing and proper footwear for riding a bicycle. Do not wear a dress, skirt or full slip.

You will be wearing EKG leads on your chest, so you should not wear one piece outfits or clothing that prevents easy access to your chest.

Do not eat or drink (except water) for 3 hours before your test.

Exercise or physical labor should be avoided for 24 hours before your test.

Bring a list of your current medications with you to your test.

Your doctor’s office will tell you if you are supposed to take your medications before the test, but if you are unsure, contact your doctor.