Cardiac Rehabilitation

What is cardiac rehabilitation?

Cardiac rehabilitation is a program to help people who have heart disease. It is overseen by a health care provider. People in this program may have had a heart attack or heart surgery. Cardiac rehabilitation can often help you get better at your daily tasks. It may ease your symptoms and give you a sense of well-being.

Who can be helped by cardiac rehabilitation?

You may be helped by cardiac rehabilitation if you have certain heart conditions or if you have had certain heart procedures. These include:

  • Stable angina. This is chest pain caused by disease in the arteries of your heart.

  • Heart attack (myocardial infarction). A heart attack happens when the heart itself doesn’t get enough blood.

  • Heart failure. This means your heart cannot pump blood as well as it should. Your body then does not get enough blood.

  • Coronary artery bypass grafting (CABG) surgery. This is surgery to fix the arteries of your heart.

  • Heart valve repair or replacement. This is surgery to fix or replace one of your heart valves. The valves keep blood flowing in one direction in your heart.

  • Heart or heart-lung transplant. This is surgery to replace a damaged heart or heart and lungs.

  • Angioplasty with or without a stent. This is done to fix an artery in your heart. The surgeon may put a small mesh tube (stent) inside the artery.

  • Peripheral artery disease. This means the arteries that send blood to your arms and legs are narrowed.

The cardiac rehabilitation team

Your cardiac rehabilitation program may begin while you are in the hospital or soon after you are discharged. Many different health care providers may help with your cardiac rehabilitation. They include:

  • Specialists. Specialists may include an expert in diagnosing and treating heart disease (cardiologist), a heart surgeon (cardiovascular or cardiothoracic surgeon), and rehabilitation specialist (physiatrist).

  • Primary care providers. These include a specialist in caring for adults (internist) and a doctor who cares for all family members (family practice provider).

  • Cardiac nurses. These are nurses who have special training in caring for people with heart problems.

  • Registered dietitian or nutritionist. This is a person with special training in healthy eating and in diets for people with heart and other health conditions.

  • Physical therapist. This is a specialist who is trained to help improve how you move in order to ease your pain and disability.

  • Occupational therapist. This is a specialist who is trained to help improve how well you can do your daily tasks.

  • Psychologist, psychiatrist, or counselor. This person helps with mental health problems. He or she can help you cope with daily stress, including long-term health problems.

  • Case manager or social worker. This person helps with planning your care. It may be in the hospital, in long-term care, or at home.

Other health care providers may also be involved. It depends on your needs and your rehabilitation program.

The cardiac rehabilitation program

Your cardiac rehabilitation program is designed to meet your needs. It is overseen by a cardiac doctor and a team of cardiac health providers. Your program may last from 6 weeks to more than a year.

The goal of cardiac rehabilitation is to help ease your symptoms and make your heart as healthy as possible. Your program may include:

  • Exercise program. This makes you more fit, and helps your heart work better.

  • Classes to help you change your lifestyle and habits. For example, you may take a smoking cessation class to help you quit smoking. Or you may take a nutrition class to learn how to eat better.

  • Stress management. You willlearn how to manage stress to lower your anxiety.

  • Counseling. This will help you learn about your specific condition and how to live with it.

  • Occupational therapy. This is to help you get ready to go back to work.