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Cardiopulmonary exercise test

Find out more about how we investigate cardiac function, breathlessness and metabolic fitness.

Download a pdf version of this information by following the link on the right.

What is a cardiopulmonary test?

It’s an test that lets your doctor see how your lungs, heart and muscles react to exercise. While you cycle on an exercise bike we measure how much air you breathe, how much oxygen you need and how fast and efficiently your heart beats.

To measure the amount of air you breathe, you’ll need to wear a face mask. An electrocardiogram (ECG) will check the electrical activity of your heart and a blood pressure cuff will measure your blood pressure at the beginning and end of the test.

A small peg on your finger will measure how much oxygen is in your blood.

What does the test involve?

Before the test begins a clinical physiologist or doctor will explain it to you. Please feel free to ask questions and share any concerns.

Try to describe as best as you can any:

  • chest discomfort
  • breathing problems
  • light headedness
  • dizziness
  • fluttering in the chest
  • weakness
  • tiredness
  • other feelings or sensations you think may be relevant.

Your doctor and/or a clinical physiologist will be with you during the test. They’ll check:

  • your heart rate and rhythm
  • blood pressure
  • breathing rate
  • the amount of oxygen you use
  • how much oxygen is in your blood (finger probe).

We take a resting measurement to begin with lasting 3 minutes. Because you need to wear a face mask, you’ll need to give hand instructions to reply to the clinical physiologist or doctor’s questions during the test.

We’ll ask you to continue cycling until we tell you to stop, you’re too short of breath or you’re unable to carry on for some other reason.┬áThe clinical physiologist/doctor may stop the test if they have all the information needed.

We’ll explain these instructions to you before the test begins.

After the test

You can eat and drink as usual. Depending on how you feel, you may go about your normal routine or take it easy if you feel tired. Please do not take a hot shower for at least an hour after the test. Your blood vessels expand with exercise and need time to return to normal. A hot shower may expand them more causing low blood pressure and dizziness.

The clinical physiologists, doctors and nurses will help you at all times.


We’ll discuss the results with you on the day or send them to the consultant who referred you for the test. They’ll normally discuss the results with you at the next outpatient clinic or ward round.

Advice to patients before testing


Please wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothing and flat shoes that will not slip off.


Before the test you may take breathing medications, such as inhalers and any other medications you normally take.

Smoking, eating and drinking

If you smoke, please avoid it for at least 8 hours before the test. It’s also important that you do not eat or drink coffee, tea or any other drinks containing caffeine for 2 hours before the test. This ensures the measurements taken are as accurate as possible.

Your health

Please tell the doctor about any conditions (temporary or permanent) that could affect your ability to move, walk, stand, or keep your balance. If possible, please try to discuss this when you’re first told that you should have this test as it can not be performed if you’re unable to walk. It’s also important that the clinical physiologist / doctor carrying out the test has this information.

On the day of the test

Please try to be as well rested as possible. Do not do any heavy exercise earlier on the same day. You may need to reschedule the test if you feel unwell, for example, if you have a cold. If you do not feel you can give your best exercise effort please contact the department before or on the day of the test.

For further information

Contact the Preoperative Assessment Department, Wycombe Hospital on 01494-426467.

State your full name, hospital number, surgery required, and the consultant who requested your test.