Exercise breathing tests

Cardiopulmonary Exercise Test (CPET) and Exercise Challenge Test. 

Respiratory and Sleep Physiology

Why do I need this test?

An exercise breathing test is used to measure the fitness of your heart and lungs. This information is needed to help plan your treatment.

How is the test performed?

The test is usually done by two Respiratory Physiologists who are specialists in breathing. The Physiologists will explain the procedure to you before and during the test.

Depending on the type of exercise test, you may be fitted with a mask, finger monitor, heart monitor (chest stickers) and arm cuff in order to measure your breathing and heart function during the test. Alternatively, you may be asked to blow into a small device whilst you are exercising.

First we take some measurements while you are resting. You will then be asked to walk on a treadmill, or pedal a bicycle, and slowly increase the intensity. This may be an increase in speed, incline (slope), or resistance (how hard you have to work to move). You will be asked to exercise until you are told to stop or until you are unable to continue. It is important to exercise for as long as you can to get the most accurate results. We will then take some more measurements as you rest after the exercise.

Although the exercise will only last around 10 minutes, please allow up to 60 minutes for the appointment in total.

How should I prepare for the appointment?

  • If you are a smoker please do not smoke for 24 hours before your appointment. If you need support to stop smoking, contact ‘Get Healthy Rotherham’ for free advice and support. Telephone 01709 718720 or visit www.gethealthyrotherham.co.uk.
  • Have a light meal around 2-4 hours before your appointment. You should also avoid caffeine; alcohol, tea, coffee and fizzy drinks. You can have decaffeinated tea and coffee. Please drink lots of water in the hours before the test to make sure you are hydrated. If you are diabetic please continue with your normal food and medication.
  • Take all medication (including inhalers, sprays and tablets) which you are prescribed as normal, unless your appointment letter states differently. Please bring a list with you so we can see what medication you are taking if needed. If you usually take inhalers for your breathing we would request that you bring these with you to your appointment.
  • Do not exercise for 12 hours before the test. Please arrive 10 minutes earlier than your appointment time so that you can rest for 10 minutes before your appointment.
  • Come to the appointment in footwear that is comfortable and easy to walk/pedal in such as trainers or flat shoes. Please do not wear backless shoes, sandals or flip flops.
  • Clothing should be practical and comfortable. E.g. loose trousers or shorts. If you prefer, you can get changed into suitable clothing when you arrive in the department. 

What happens to the results?

Your test will be analysed and reported on by one of the Physiologists. These results will then be sent to your referring Doctor.

What if I cannot attend?

If you are unable to attend the appointment that has been arranged for you, please contact the department on 01709 421780 as soon as possible so that we can organise another appointment for you, and offer your appointment time to another patient on our waiting list.

What will happen if I do not want this test?

You can choose whether or not to have the tests, but if you do choose not to complete them, important information may be missed which may impact on receiving an accurate diagnosis and treatment.

Are there any side effects or risks?

As you will be exercising to your maximum level, it is possible that the test may cause some muscle discomfort (usually in your legs), shortness of breath, dizziness or nausea. If you have any of these symptoms, they usually start to get better soon after you have finished exercising. You may have muscle tiredness or soreness for a day or so after the test. Gentle exercise, such as a short walk, and drinking plenty of water after the test can help with muscle soreness.

Exercise tests are quite safe procedures, and the risk of side effects is the same as doing mild exercise. The number of patients that have complications during the test is low, but the test does carry a risk. Your breathing, heart rate and rhythm will be monitored closely during and after exercise. The test is often supervised by a Respiratory Consultant or Consultant Anaesthetist. Possible complications are listed on the next page. These have been worked out from studies on patients who have had this test. 

Uncommon (1-10 people in 1000, one person in a village)

Something happening which means you would have to go to hospital, such as an unusual blood pressure measurement or a change in your heart rhythm.

Rare (1-10 people in 10,000, one person in a small town)

Having a major cardiac event, such as a heart attack or stroke.

Very rare (less than 1 person in 10,000, less than one person in a large town)

Death - although very rare, some complications can be serious and even cause death (2-5 in 100,000 tests).

For most people, the benefit of having the test, outweighs the risk. If you have any specific concerns about your own risk performing this test, please contact the department on 01709421780 or discuss them with your Physiologist/Consultant before the test.

How to contact us

Respiratory & Sleep Physiology
First Floor
Breathing Space
Badsley Moor Lane
S65 2QL

Whiston Suite
C Level
Rotherham Hospital
Moorgate Road
S60 2UD

Telephone 01709 421780
Monday to Friday, 8am to 4pm


Rotherham Hospital Switchboard
Telephone 01709 820000

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