Cardiac Rehab Cuts Risks After Heart Attack

Cardiac Rehabilitation Reduces Risk of Death by More Than 50%

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Aug. 31, 2004 -- Participating in a cardiac rehabilitation program may reduce the risk of death in the years following a heart attack by more than 50%, according to a new study.

Researchers found up to a third of deaths within three years after a heart attack were attributable to not participating in cardiac rehabilitation.

"On average, for patients who participated in cardiac rehab, it was almost as if the heart attack never had happened," says researcher Veronique Roger, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., in a news release. "They had the same three-year survival as what would be expected from area residents of the same age and sex who had not suffered heart attacks."

But the study also found that women were 55% less likely to participate in cardiac rehab programs and should be encouraged to do so.

Cardiac rehabilitation consists of a medically supervised exercise program designed to help people regain strength and improve heart health after a heart attack or heart surgery.

Who Participates in Cardiac Rehab?

In the study, researchers followed 1,821 people from Minnesota who had heart attacks between 1982 and 1998 and were discharged from the hospital. The results appear in the Sept. 1 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

Overall, 55% of the heart attack survivors participated in cardiac rehab following their attack. But participation rates were much higher among men than women, 67% vs. 38%.

Participation were also declined with increasing age, with 81% of heart attack survivors under 60 participating vs. 32% of those over 70.

Other factors that increased the likelihood of participating in cardiac rehab included:

"Our study was not designed to answer exactly why some groups are less likely to participate, but some key issues for women may be a lack of transportation and support networks," says Roger. "They may not see rehab as important, or they may need to care for a spouse who may also be ill."


Cardiac Rehab May Erase Effects of Heart Attack

The study also showed that participation in cardiac rehab was strongly associated with improved survival in the years following a heart attack.

For example, cardiac rehab participants had a 95% survival rate after three years compared with a survival rate of 64% among non-participants.

In fact, researchers say there was no difference between the survival rates of cardiac rehab participants and the expected survival rate of the Minnesota residents who had not had a heart attack.

The study also showed that participation in cardiac rehab reduced the risk of a repeat heart attack by 28%.

"Hopefully this study will encourage physicians to give all of their patients, but especially women, that extra nudge to participate in rehab. And for patients, hopefully it will encourage them to follow their doctor's advice," says Roger.

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SOURCES: Witt, D. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Sept. 1, 2004; vol 44: pp 988-996. News release, Mayo Clinic and Foundation.
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