The leading cause of death in America is heart disease and each year, more than 600,000 people die from it. Ischemic heart disease is caused when arteries narrow and not enough oxygen can get to the heart. Often, the blockage occurs when fatty plaque and cholesterol particles build up on the walls, decreasing blood flow to the heart and reducing oxygen delivered to the heart muscle.

It’s possible to live with heart disease, but it can also be disabling. When this is the case, you may not be able to perform normal, daily activities or hold a job. Whether you’re a veteran or civilian suffering from a heart condition,man doing stress test you will likely need to take a metabolic equivalent of task (METS) test—also called a stress test, to be eligible for disability benefits.

The METS test measures the level of energy you exert when engaged in physical activities or work. It gathers information about the way your heart performs during these activities. This type of stress test usually requires that you ride a stationary bike or walk on a treadmill while medical professionals monitor your blood pressure, breathing, and heart rhythm.

If your METS test indicates that you have heart disease, and you have other medical evidence that proves your condition, you may qualify for Social Security (SS) disability or benefits from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). Because the process for filing a claim for ischemic heart disease might be challenging, it can be helpful to hire a disability attorney to work with you.

How Does a METS Test Work?

The METS is a way to measure the energy that it takes to perform physical activities. A person who is seated at rest expends one METS. When a person exercises, the energy he expends is compared to that one METS to calculate the intensity. If he performs a task or activity that receives a METS value of five, that means he's exerting five times the energy needed to be at rest. 

A key piece of data in this stress test is a MET minute, which is the time you engage in the actual activity being monitored. For example, if you ride the stationary bike for 30 minutes and exert energy that’s equivalent to 5 METS, you would calculate the MET minutes this way:

30 minutes x 5 METS = 150 MET minutes

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (ODPHP), there are significant health benefits if an adult engages in 500–1,000 MET minutes each week. Additionally, the ODPHP specifies certain aerobic activity levels and their METS level equivalents as follows:

  • Performing easy and light intensity aerobic activities or workouts = 1.1 to 2.9 METS
  • Performing moderate intensity aerobic activities or workouts = 3.0 to 5.9 METS
  • Performing vigorous or strenuous aerobic activities or workouts = 6.0 or higher METS

If you work out on a treadmill at home, your machine may display the METS value of your exercise. There are also websites that provide METS numbers for a variety of physical activities.

What Happens During a METS Test?

When you’re going to have a stress test, your doctor may tell you not to smoke, eat, or drink for a few hours prior to the test. You’ll wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes. During the test, a medical professional places electrodes that look like sticky patches on your chest, legs, and arms. These electrodes are connected by wires to an electrocardiogram machine, and they record your heart’s electrical signals. Your blood pressure is monitored during the test, and you may also blow into a tube to evaluate your breathing.  

You’ll start your exercise on the treadmill or bike slowly. Then, the incline of the treadmill will change, and the speed will increase. On a stationary bike, the medical professional will change the resistance level to make pedaling harder. Exercising continues until your heart reaches a set rate or you develop symptoms that force you to stop. These symptoms may include:

  • Dizziness
  • High or low pressure
  • Abnormal heart rhythm
  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Moderate or severe chest pain

We Can Help

If you’ve had a METS test that helped prove your ischemic heart disease and you want to apply for VA or SS disability, or you’ve applied and your claim was denied, contact Cuddigan Law at (402) 933-5405. We’ll schedule an appointment to discuss your eligibility for benefits.


Sean D. Cuddigan
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SSA and VA Disability Attorney in Omaha, Nebraska