Pulmonary Exercise Testing

Patients often have concerns when they are scheduled to take pulmonary exercise tests. This brochure has been designed to answer the most frequently asked questions.

What is a pulmonary exercise test?

A pulmonary exercise test measures many of your body’s functions, including the rate and rhythm of your heartbeat; blood pressure; breathing patterns; exhaled air; blood oxygen and carbon dioxide; and your general physical condition. It involves exercising on either a stationary bike or a treadmill, with the amount of exercise you are asked to do being gradually increased. We may also ask you to repeat the test while we give you extra oxygen.

Why are pulmonary exercise tests done?

Pulmonary exercise tests are ordered by your physician if you easily become short of breath. These tests can answer many questions about your general physical condition, such as:

  • Why do I become short of breath?
  • How does my body respond to exercise?
  • How much exercise can I perform?
  • Should I use additional oxygen as I exercise?

How long will the test take?

The exercise testing session can take from one to three hours, depending on which tests your doctor has ordered for you. The actual exercise time, though, is usually limited to 10-15 minutes, sometimes less.

How hard will I have to exercise?

You should perform these tests to the very best of your ability. This makes the results more useful, providing the most accurate and reliable data to analyze.

What are the risks?

Though the risk is slight, some people do experience unusual responses to exercise. These responses can include abnormal changes in blood pressure and heart beats; difficulty in breathing; fainting or dizziness; and muscle cramping. As a precaution, you are closely monitored by a respiratory therapist and a physician.

What about medications?

Unless you are told otherwise, continue to take all prescribed medications as usual. IMPORTANT: Do not confuse this instruction with that of the “pulmonary function testing.” The pulmonary function test usually requires you to discontinue any breathing medications you are taking. If you have questions or are unsure, please ask!

Should I eat or exercise before my test?

Avoid all heavy, rich and hard-to-digest foods for at least six hours prior to your appointment. If you do eat, eat only light foods. No food at all one hour prior to your appointment. Alcohol, food or drinks containing caffeine (coffee, tea, cola, chocolate) and smoking of any kind should be avoided for 12 hours prior to your test. You should not engage in vigorous exercise two hours before your appointment.

What should I wear?

You will be much more comfortable wearing casual attire (shoes and slacks). Shoes should be rubber-soled, flat-bottomed and completely cover the toes and top of the foot. Jogging or tennis shoes are the best. Do not wear high heels, sandals or open-toed shoes. Slacks or shorts should fit loosely, and you may be given a hospital gown to wear as a shirt.

What else should I bring?

To save you time, it is helpful if you bring the following:

  • Your completed “Pre-Exercise Test Questionnaire.” If you don’t have one, please call the Pulmonary Lab at 949-764-5500, and it will be sent to your home.
  • Results of any previous pulmonary function and/or pulmonary exercise tests you may have taken. If these tests were performed at Hoag, let us know and we will obtain copies of the results. If you had these tests performed somewhere else, let us know where (and when) so we can get this information.
  • Any medications you are currently taking, especially any breathing inhalers, nitroglycerin tablets or other post-exercise medications you may need.
  • A list of questions, if you have any.
  • The physician order or prescription if not already faxed.

What if I am unable to keep my appointment?

Please make every attempt to keep your appointment since it requires a great deal of technical preparation. However, if you are sick, experiencing severe breathing difficulties or are injured, you can cancel your appointment by calling the Respiratory Care Department at 949-764-5500.

Where should I go?

If you are an outpatient, proceed to outpatient registration. From there, a staff member will be happy to direct you to the Pulmonary Function Testing Lab within Hoag Hospital Newport Beach or Hoag Hospital Irvine.

Checklist of what to do before the exercise test

  • Continue all medications as usual.
  • No alcohol, smoking or caffeine for at least 12 hours.
  • No food for at least one hour and no heavy foods for at least six hours.
  • No vigorous exercise for at least two hours. Complete your “Pre-Exercise Test Questionnaire.”

Checklist of what to bring and wear

  • Completed “Pre-Exercise Test Questionnaire.”
  • Results of any previous pulmonary function and/or pulmonary exercise tests.
  • A list of any personal questions.
  • Any medications you might need following the exercise test.
  • Closed toe, rubber-soled, comfortable shoes.
  • Comfortable slacks or shorts.
  • A positive attitude.
  • Physician order.