What is Cardiac Rehab?
So, you or your loved one have been referred to cardiac rehab. But what does that even mean? In summary, cardiac rehab (also known as cardiac therapy) is a medically supervised program designed to improve the health and quality of life of patients with a heart-related medical condition. The rehab treatment program may be provided in an outpatient clinic, a specialist inpatient rehab facility, or a hospital-based rehab center. A team of rehab specialists, including doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, nutritionists, and mental health professionals, will work together to put together a customized rehab program. Usually, a cardiac rehab program will include medically supervised exercises and education on heart-healthy living.
Who Can Benefit from Cardiac Rehab?
The short answer is that anyone who is dealing with a cardiac condition can benefit from cardiac rehab. According to the Centers for Disease Control, this includes both patients with mild or moderate heart diseases, patients recovering from major cardiac events, anyone who has undergone heart surgery, and people with serious chronic heart conditions. Specifically, you may benefit from cardiac rehab if your medical history includes any of the following conditions:
- A heart attack (acute myocardial infarction)
- Chronic or acute heart failure
- Coronary or peripheral artery disease
- Pulmonary hypertension
- Heart valve surgery or bypass
- Heart or lung transplant
- Angioplasty or stents
- Congenital heart disease
The Four Phases of Cardiac Rehab
Cardiac rehab usually runs through four progressive phases, usually starting when you are still in the hospital. They are as follows:
Phase 1: Acute or Clinical
During the first phase, you may still be in the hospital. For instance, you may have recently experienced a heart attack or be recovering from heart surgery.
In milder heart conditions, Phase 1 might begin after the completion of some kind of medical intervention, such as the introduction of heart medications. During this phase of treatment, you will undergo a careful evaluation by a team of cardiac rehab specialists. They will review your physical and mental state, take a full medical history, and begin to provide you with support and information, in addition to the appropriate medications. You might also receive some acute care physical therapy to help you get back on your feet. In addition, if you are in a hospital, you will receive a discharge plan, also known as a guide for how to safely leave the hospital.
Phase 2: Subacute Care
If you have a serious heart condition or experienced a major cardiac event, you will not be ready to start intensive physical therapy straight away. During this stage of rehab, the focus will be on patient education. You will be guided on how to manage your heart condition and given more information on heart-healthy living. Your health will be closely monitored during this period to make sure that you are making progress toward recovery. Once you are ready to begin exercising, you will move onto the next phase of rehab.
Phase 3: Intensive Cardiac Rehab
Depending on your physical abilities, budget, and the levels of support available to you at home, you may decide to undertake intensive cardiac rehab as an outpatient, or staying in an inpatient rehab facility. This stage typically lasts 3 to 6 weeks. Your rehab team will design a customized cardiac rehab program to help support your recovery. This phase will include a progressive program of supervised physical and occupational therapy to enable you to resume daily activities, care for yourself as much as possible, and gain physical strength, flexibility, and mobility. You will also receive extensive training on how to manage your heart condition, modify your lifestyle, and manage your medications and any necessary medical devices on your own. Many patients will also work with a mental health professional to learn how to manage their stress and anxiety better. The goal of this phase of treatment is to help you feel more independent and better prepared to return home.
Phase 4: Post-Rehab Maintenance
Phase 4 will last for the rest of your life! Once you’ve completed cardiac rehab, you should have a clear idea of everything you need to do to keep your heart healthy. The objective now is to keep up changes that you learned during your rehab program once you return to your daily life. You will need to maintain your exercise regime, new diet, and good habits, to avoid experiencing any further coronary incidents. You should also receive regular check-ups with your doctor to keep an eye on your heart health.
What are the Benefits of Cardiac Rehabilitation?
Cardiac rehab has been repeatedly demonstrated to offer major benefits to those suffering from heart conditions, including:
A Longer, Healthier Life
Of course, the main goal of cardiac rehab is to help you live longer and improve the health of your heart. Researchers have consistently found that “cardiac rehabilitation programs reduce hospital admissions and show a long-term decrease in all-cause mortality.” In other words, cardiac rehab may well keep you out of the hospital and help you live longer despite your heart condition.
Improved Quality of Life
After cardiac rehab, your life may not only be longer but more enjoyable. Patients often experience significant increases in their overall quality of life after rehab. For instance, researchers at James Cook University in Singapore found that patients “reported higher levels of physical and mental quality of life” after completing a cardiac rehab program. As the American Heart Association puts it:
“Participating in cardiac rehab is one of the best things you can do for your heart. Cardiac rehab helps you regain control of your health.”
When you complete a cardiac rehab program, you are likely to be physically stronger and mentally more resilient. You will learn how to better manage your heart condition, how to care for yourself, and how to return to your day-to-day routine. You may find that you feel more confident, less anxious, and better able to cope.
Increased Physical Fitness
One of the key benefits of cardiac rehab is that it helps you build up your physical fitness levels in a safe, controlled environment. Your rehab team will put together a progressive program of exercises that will enable you to strengthen your cardiovascular system, build muscle tone and flexibility, and increase your physical resilience, without putting yourself at risk or exacerbating your heart condition. After cardiac rehab, you will know how to exercise on your own safely. This means you can include an exercise regime in your daily routine that will also help you to reduce stress, maintain a healthy weight, and feel better.
More Awareness about Heart-Healthy Living
Another crucial aspect of cardiac rehab is patient education. During your rehab program, you will receive intensive training on how to manage your heart condition, deal with your medications, and live a more heart-healthy lifestyle. Research has shown that patient education has a significant impact on the long-term well-being of patients. With your new-found expertise on your heart condition, you may identify changes you need to make to your day-to-day routine, such as how to better manage your stress levels or how to prepare nutritious, heart-healthy meals. In many rehab programs, education is also available to your family members and loved ones, to ensure that they can better support you once you return home after your rehab program finishes.
Studies show that cardiac rehab reduces the rate of depression in cardiac patients. There are several reasons why cardiac rehab may help improve your mood. Firstly, a regular program of exercise promotes the release of endorphins. Secondly, by providing a supportive environment for recovery, cardiac rehab may help people feel more in control of their health and well-being. Thirdly, cardiac rehab often includes a social aspect; meeting other people with heart conditions may help you feel less alone. And finally, cardiac rehab usually includes training on stress management, which can help reduce feelings of anxiety and depression that frequently occur after cardiac events.
During rehab, you’ll learn how to change habits that can impact your hearth health. For instance, you may receive guidance on how to stop smoking for good. You’ll work with a nutritionist to develop eating habits that support your heart health. You will learn how to exercise regularly and safely. You might also learn how to use breathing techniques or meditation to manage your stress and anxiety better.
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