A cardiopulmonary exercise test, or CPET for short, is a type of stress test that examines how well the lungs, heart, and muscles work individually and together.
A cardiopulmonary exercise test falls into the category of a stress test because it involves exercise, which stresses the body’s systems, making them work harder, in order to measure their level of functioning when under stress.
If you experience intolerance to exercise, shortness of breath, or pain in your chest while working out, you should consult your doctor who will likely recommend a cardiopulmonary exercise test.
The CPET will be used to diagnose or rule out several disorders, some more severe than others.
If you are diagnosed with any of these disorders, your doctor may request that you receive regular CPETs in order to monitor your progress once treatment has begun.
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What Can I Expect When Going in for My Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test?
The results of a cardiopulmonary exercise test will show the amount of oxygen your body is using, the amount of carbon dioxide your body produces, your breathing pattern, and your heart rate and rhythm through the administration of an EKG during the procedure.
When you arrive for your CPET, after consulting with the technician, two lung tests will be performed while your body is at rest for comparison purposes. Next, you will be fitted with test equipment which includes:
- A face mask for monitoring oxygen intake and carbon dioxide output
- Ten stickers attached to your chest for performing an EKG to measure heart rate and rhythm
- A blood pressure cuff to take your blood pressure frequently throughout the procedure
- A pulse oximeter, which slides over your finger and measures the percentage of blood cells covered with oxygen
After this your doctor or a technician will have you pedal a stationary bike, beginning slowly, and increasing in speed and tension.
Unlike a basic stress test, which uses a treadmill, a CPET uses a stationary bike, which is often more accessible to a wider range of individuals.
You will be asked to continue this until you cannot pedal anymore. You will perform a short cooldown on the bike, be given a rest period, and then repeat one lung test. The entire procedure takes approximately 45-60 minutes. However, you are only actually undergoing the test on the bicycle for 15 to 25 minutes.
What disorders can a cardiopulmonary exercise test diagnose?
A CPET can be used to detect or rule out several disorders with a range in severity from those that are minor and can be improved with exercise to those that are life-threatening. These include:
- Deconditioning – poor fitness level that can be improved with exercise
- Muscle metabolic disorders – the inability of muscle cells to use oxygen from the bloodstream
- Pulmonary circulation disorder – the inability of the body to pull oxygen from the lungs and into the bloodstream
- Pulmonary ventilation disorders – airway disorders such as asthma, COPD, or emphysema
- Chronotropic incompetence – the inability of the heart to increase its rate properly
- Cardiac valve dysfunction – heart valves do not open and close properly
- Heart disease – also known as cardiovascular disease, this condition may include high blood pressure, heart attacks, arrhythmia, and more
- Heart failure – also known as congestive heart failure, this condition happens when “your heart muscle doesn’t pump blood as well as it should”
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What Do the Results of a Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test Mean If I Already Have a Diagnosis of One of These Disorders?
Unlike a basic stress test that is normally used for diagnostic purposes only, CPETs are often used to monitor the progression of disorders, as well as the body’s response to treatments, including workout plans and medication.
If your doctor has ordered CPETs to be administered to monitor a current disorder, he or she will be looking at the results and comparing them against those seen on previous test occasions.
This will help your doctor figure out if the current course of treatment is working, if further treatment is required, or if you no longer require treatment. Your doctor will analyze the results and make recommendations accordingly. Your doctor will also, most likely, recommend a series of follow up tests to continue to monitor treatments.
Are you wondering what the results of a cardiopulmonary exercise test mean for your current exercise routine?
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