Cardiac rehabilitation or cardiac rehab is highly effective in providing preventative care, advancing recovery, and preventing future cardiovascular disease in cardiac or heart patients. Cardiac rehab helps you return to optimal health and function following events like a heart attack or surgery.
As per World Health Organization (WHO), cardiac rehabilitation or rehab is: “ the sum of activity and interventions required to ensure the best possible physical, mental, and social conditions so that patients with chronic or post-acute cardiovascular disease may, by their own efforts, preserve or resume their proper place in society and lead an active life”.
Typically, a cardiac rehab program is an individually designed outpatient program of education, progressive exercise, emotional support, and risk modification – to improve the overall well-being of cardiac patients.
Generally, cardiac rehab is recommended to patients whose medical history includes:
- Heart attack
- Heart failure
- Coronary heart or artery disease
- Heart transplant
- Lung transplant
- Heart surgery (bypass, valve, or artery surgery)
- Stroke or mini-stroke
- Pulmonary hypertension
Procedure involved in a cardiac rehab program
A cardiac rehab program is a comprehensive program for secondary prevention care, aimed at early detection of the disease; and reducing its progression via healthcare interventions from your healthcare professionals including physical therapists, cardiologists, nutrition specialists, mental health specialists, and more.
The healthcare interventions can include management of psychological, nutritional, behavioral, social, and other risk factors that can affect patient outcomes – changes resulting from health care – to promote a healthier lifestyle and reduce the future occurrence of cardiovascular events.
Primarily, there are three phases involved in a cardiac rehab program.
Phase I: Inpatient Phase
The first phase of cardiac rehab is initiated right after your cardiovascular event. The inpatient phase typically involves early progressive mobilization to restore mobility; making sure the patient can perform self-care and simple household tasks post-discharge.
In addition, cardiovascular patients are informed about the nature of illness and essential treatment, address the risk factors, prescribe appropriate assistance devices such as cane or walker, and follow-up planning.
Phase II: Supervised Outpatient Program
Once you are discharged, your cardiac rehab treatment becomes a supervised outpatient program, usually lasting from about three to six weeks, often involving lessons about –
- reducing aggressive risk factors
- self-monitoring your cardiac responses to specific exercises
- appropriate exercise routines
- self-monitoring your heart rate and symptomatic response to exercise
Moreover, you will closely work with a physical therapist during this phase, to improve your exercise tolerance and monitor any negative responses. This phase mostly focuses on your safe return to functional mobility. By the end, you will be able to perform more independent activities and exercises.
As the outpatient program advances and you become more independent, your physical therapist can create a cardiac rehab program tailored to your special needs. Generally, the program includes suitable exercises involving strengthening, flexibility, and aerobic exercises.
Phase III: Lifetime Maintenance
In the final phase of the cardiac rehab program, independent and ongoing conditioning is emphasized. The primary goal of the lifetime maintenance phase is to focus on physical fitness and reducing additional risk factors via home or gym-based exercises.
In addition, emphasis is given to risk modification and exercises learned during the second phase of the cardiac rehab program. Once the three phases are over, you should have a complete knowledge of your cardiac condition, risk factors, and ways to maintain optimal health.
Besides, your cardiac rehab program is tailored to meet your special requirements, from medicine education, exercises, diet to other support. By following independent exercise and conditioning, you can facilitate long term lifestyle changes and keep the risks of cardiac problems at bay.
Not all heart patients can undergo a cardiac rehab program. At the start of a cardiac rehab program, your healthcare team performs a complete physical and mental assessment to establish a risk profile. Generally, the assessment is used to set goals for your cardiac rehab program and facilitate care with minimal risk involved.
Overall, cardiac rehab is safe with very low risks of major cardiovascular complications like death, heart attack, cardiac arrest, or other serious injuries. Nonetheless, on rare occasions, some patients can suffer minor injuries like strained muscles or sprains while exercising.
After cardiac rehab
After completing your cardiac rehab, you need to follow the heart-healthy habits and skills you developed during the program, for the rest of your life. Consequently, you can rebuild your life both physically and emotionally, and return to an active lifestyle.
Through a cardiac rehab program, you can benefit from:
- Mortality reduction
- Enhanced exercise tolerance
- Symptom relief
- Diabetes control
- Nutritional counseling
- Smoking/tobacco cessation
- Stress management
- Medicine management
- Weight management
Cardiac rehab has been highly effective in improving cardiovascular patients’ overall quality of life and preventing the risk of future cardiovascular events. Nonetheless, to make the most of your cardiac rehab program, make sure to follow the exercise routine and lifestyle changes lifelong.