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Cardiac Rehabilitation


Topic Overview

What is cardiac rehabilitation?

Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) teaches you how to be more active and make lifestyle changes that can lead to a stronger heart and better health. Cardiac rehab can help you feel better and reduce your risk of future heart problems.

In cardiac rehab, you work with a team of health professionals. Often the team includes a doctor, a nurse specialist, a dietitian, an exercise therapist, and a physical therapist. The team designs a program just for you, based on your health and goals. Then they give you support to help you succeed.

If you have a heart problem or had surgery, you may be afraid to exercise. Or if you have never exercised, you may not know how to get started. Your cardiac rehab team will help you start slowly and work up to a level that is good for your heart.

Many hospitals and rehab centers offer cardiac rehab programs. You may be part of a cardiac rehab group, but each person will follow his or her own plan.

Who should take part in cardiac rehab?

Doctors often prescribe cardiac rehab for people who have had a heart attack or bypass surgery. But people with many types of heart or blood vessel disease can benefit from cardiac rehab. Rehab might help you if you have:

  • Heart failure.
  • Peripheral artery disease (PAD).
  • Had or plan to have a heart transplant.
  • Had angioplasty to open a coronary artery.
  • Had another type of heart surgery, such as valve replacement.

Often people are not given the chance to try cardiac rehab. Or they may start a program but drop out. This is especially true of women and older adults. And that's not good news, because they can get the same benefits as younger people. If your doctor suggests cardiac rehab, stay with it so you can get the best results.

Medicare will pay for cardiac rehab for people with certain heart problems. Many insurance companies also provide coverage. Check with your insurance company or your hospital to see if you will be covered.

What happens in cardiac rehab?

In cardiac rehab, you will learn how to:

  • Manage your heart disease and problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
  • Exercise safely.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet.
  • Quit smoking.
  • Reduce stress and depression.
  • Get back to work sooner and safely.

Exercise is a big part of cardiac rehab. So before you get started, you will have a full checkup, which may include tests such as an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) and a "stress test" (exercise electrocardiogram). These tests show how well your heart is working. They will help your team design an exercise program that is safe for you.

At first your rehab team will keep a close watch on how exercise affects your heart. As you get stronger, you will learn how to check your own heart rate when you exercise. By the end of rehab, you will be ready to continue an exercise program on your own.

What are the benefits of cardiac rehab?

Starting cardiac rehab after a heart attack can lower your chance of dying from heart disease and can help you stay out of the hospital. It may reduce your need for medicine.

Cardiac rehab may also help you to:

  • Have better overall health.
  • Lose weight or keep weight off.
  • Feel less depressed and more hopeful.
  • Have more energy and feel better about yourself.

Changing old habits is hard. But in cardiac rehab, you get the support of experts who can help you make new healthy habits. And meeting other people who are in cardiac rehab can help you know that you're not alone.

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