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Do I Need Cardiac Rehab?

Medically Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on November 05, 2020

Cardiac rehabilitation, a special program of exercise, counseling, and more, can help people with a wide range of heart issues.

Perhaps you have some type of heart disease. Or you might have had surgery or a heart attack. Depending on your situation, your doctor may put you in a program so you can recover faster at home and help keep your heart at its healthiest.

What Is Cardiac Rehab?

The program covers a range of things: exercise, what you eat, how to lower stress, and more. It addresses all the lifestyle issues that may lead to heart disease and how you can manage each of them.

Your team will come up with exercises that keep your special fitness needs in mind. Your cardiac rehab program may include exercises like cycling on a stationary bike, using a treadmill, low-impact aerobics, and swimming.

Your team will tell you more about measuring and managing your blood pressure, diabetes, and cholesterol. You’ll find out why it’s important to get a good night’s sleep and tips on doing that.

Who Goes Into Rehab?

Men and women of all ages with a variety of heart problems may join a program.

Your doctor might recommend rehab for you if you’ve had a heart attack.

You might also enroll in a program if you have heart failure (when the heart muscle weakens and can’t pump blood as well), an abnormal heart rhythm, called arrhythmia, or a type of chest pain called angina that happens when there's not enough blood flowing to your heart.

You might sign up after the following surgeries or procedures:

  • Angioplasty, which helps open up blocked arteries
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery, done to get around areas in the arteries that are blocked or very narrow
  • Heart or lung transplant
  • Heart valve repair or replacement
  • Placement of an implantable device (for example, a pacemaker or defibrillator)

With any type of heart condition, you should talk it over with your doctor and see whether rehab makes sense for you.

You’ll also want to check into whether Medicare or other insurance will cover it.

How Will I Benefit From Cardiac Rehab?

Cardiac rehab offers many benefits. It can improve your ability to carry out activities of daily living, reduce your heart disease risk factors, improve your quality of life, improve your outlook and emotional stability, and increase your ability to manage your disease.

What to Expect

You get a whole team of people working on your behalf when you join a program.

Along with your doctors, you’ll probably see nurses, rehab specialists, physical and occupational therapists, dietitians, and perhaps mental health counselors.

Emotional support is an important part of a program.

If you have heart disease, you might feel depressed or anxious. Sharing these emotions with a therapist is helpful. You may also want to talk with other people with the same types of health issues in a support group. A hopeful, positive attitude will often help in your recovery.

When Does It Start?

A big part of cardiac rehab is exercise. This makes your heart stronger.

Cardiac rehab involves in-person visits, typically three times a week, for 12 weeks. It usually starts several weeks after hospital discharge. Your team will check on your overall health as well as your specific heart condition. They will come up with an exercise and eating plan that keeps your limitations in mind. They will consider things such as your weight and whether you smoke.

Your rehab team will make sure you are exercising safely. They’ll check your blood pressure and heart rate often.

How Long Will I Be in a Rehab Program?

The answer depends on your specific health situation. 

A typical program lasts 12 weeks. You’ll go to a rehab facility two or three times a week for an hour or so. At the end of that program, you and your team will decide whether you should continue.

If you don’t feel well enough yet or can’t find a way to get to a rehab center, at-home or virtual care may be possible.

Even if you exercise and eat healthy foods, you can still benefit from cardiac rehab. You may just be one of those people who needs only a brief program.

Once outpatient rehab ends, continue to exercise, eat well, take your medications as prescribed, and follow through on all the lessons you learned.

How Do I Pick a Cardiac Rehab Program?

The best cardiac rehabilitation programs are multidisciplinary, with doctors, nurses, exercise physiologists, psychologists, and dietitians either on the premises or in direct contact with the program staff. A good program will study each person's needs and design a program just for them.

Continued

Consider these points when choosing a rehab program:

  • A doctor's referral is required to enter the program.
  • Your referring doctor should receive regular progress reports.
  • A doctor-supervised stress test is frequently required before entering the program to identify risks of an exercise program and to design activity guidelines. You should be informed of their risks and benefits.
  • Check the availability of education and counseling services for your family members and caregivers. They can be of great benefit to those close to you.
  • The staff should tailor an individualized treatment plan for you based on identified risks.
  • A doctor should be nearby or have direct contact with staff during your exercise sessions.
  • The staff should be specially trained and certified in the field of cardiac rehab and in their specialty area. All staff members should have current certification in basic cardiac life support, and at least one person with advanced cardiac life support certification should be present at each exercise session.
  • Check out emergency procedures, such as readily available emergency equipment and supplies.
  • Make sure to discuss fees and insurance coverage.

For a complete listing of cardiac rehabilitation programs, visit the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation Program Directory at www.aacvpr.org.

WebMD Medical Reference

Sources

SOURCES:

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: “What is cardiac rehabilitation?” “Who needs cardiac rehabilitation?” “What to expect when starting cardiac rehabilitation,” “What are the benefits and risks of cardiac rehabilitation?”

American Heart Association: “Angina (chest pain),” “What is cardiac rehabilitation?”

Mayo Clinic: “Cardiac rehabilitation: What you can expect.”

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