When is Cardiac Rehab Needed and What to Expect
This week is National Cardiac Rehabilitation Week. So, let’s jump in and learn about what cardiac rehab is, why it is needed, what happens during cardiac rehab, the expectations of the patient to complete the program, and what needs to happen even after the patient is done with formal rehab.
A PCP or cardiologist may refer a patient to rehab to build back his/her endurance after having a heart attack. Patients sometimes find it hard to return to normal activities of daily living. This is only one of the many reasons patients are referred.
What Causes Damage to the Heart
Organ damage can result from many conditions. For example, a heart attack occurs when the blood flow to the heart is blocked by a build-up of plaque in one or more arteries. Without blood flow, oxygen and other nutrients cannot get into the tissue of the heart, so if it goes untreated too long, the damage will occur to some cells which will not be able to recover.
The heart is made up of four chambers which are separate but work together as a team. The heart muscle (myocardium) pumps oxygen-rich blood throughout the body to supply it with energy and vitality by squeezing, relaxing, and releasing valves that allow blood to move in only one direction. It contracts on its own without us controlling it because of an electrical impulse that originates in the heart’s pacemaker. If the heart muscle is damaged, heart failure can occur.
Heart damage can be due to heart disease which is a term used for conditions affecting the heart muscle. There are different types depending on where they form and what causes them. This includes hypertrophic cardiomyopathy where heart growth in the ventricles is abnormal, leading to heart failure. Other heart diseases include endocarditis which is a bacterial infection inside the heart, valvular heart disease which affects heart valves, and myocarditis which occurs when there’s an inflammation of the heart muscle. These conditions may be due to infections like strep throat or heart attack that occurs when heart cells begin to die due to lack of oxygen.
Other conditions that can lead to heart damage include heart defects present at birth where the heart doesn’t form correctly, heart valve diseases like infections or calcium buildup inside valves, and cardiomyopathies which are disorders of the heart muscle. Heart damage can also be caused by heart tumors and heart attacks. Heart damage can also be the result of heart surgery, a heart transplant, or heart failure.
Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death in developed countries so prevention measures are important to take to stay healthy. This includes eating a balanced diet, staying active with regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, being aware of risks like heart disease that runs in your family, not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke, knowing heart attack symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath, or jaw discomfort and getting checked by heart specialists.
Why is Cardiac Rehab Important
Cardiac rehab is important for cardiac patients because cardiac rehab can help cardiac patients to improve their quality of life, both physically and mentally. By seeing an individual familiar with cardiac rehab, cardiac patients will learn how to be active and healthy while still watching out for their heart at the same time. By making cardiac rehab a priority, cardiac patients will be able to do the things they want and love without putting their cardiac health in jeopardy.
Cardiac rehab also expects cardiac patients to make cardiac health a priority. During cardiac rehab appointments, cardiac patients will learn how to reduce things such as weight gain and stress that can increase the risk of cardiac events. cardiac rehab also expects cardiac patients to be active during cardiac rehab appointments, and cardiac patients will walk at a certain frequency and for a certain distance. The frequency and distance can vary depending on cardiac health, but cardiac rehab expects cardiac patients to try their best at walking as much as possible.
Cardiac rehab is important for cardiac patients’ long-term cardiac health. Cardiac rehab helps cardiac patients improve their cardiac health without putting themselves through surgery or expensive cardiac procedures. Cardiac rehab also expects cardiac patients to be on top of their cardiac event symptoms, so cardiac patients are aware of any changes in cardiac wellness that could cause more serious problems with the heart.
What to Expect During Cardiac Rehab
During cardiac rehab, patients are monitored by a team of doctors, nurses, , and technicians. Patients will typically have periodic appointments with the cardiac rehab department during their hospital stay. Then once discharged from the hospital, cardiac rehab appointments are scheduled at outpatient clinics or inpatient rehabilitation facilities.
Typically cardiac rehab health care providers include:
- nurse practitioners
- exercise physiologist
- cardiac technicians
- cardiac nurses
- registered dieticians
During cardiac rehab appointments the patient will receive the following services:
- assessments of cardiac function and performance evaluations
- education about cardiac disease
- plan for cardiac rehabilitation after discharge from the hospital
Patients are encouraged to exercise at least three times each week. During cardiac rehab visits, cardiac nurses will monitor cardiac function before, during, and after exercise.
Treatments for cardiac complications include:
- angina or cardiac chest pain
- heart failure symptoms
- irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia)
- cardiac valve disease
- life-threatening cardiac rhythm disturbances (cardiac dysrhythmias).
Patients may also receive treatments to reduce the risk of having cardiac problems in the future, such as:
- cardiac catheterization to open blocked heart arteries (also called coronary angiography)
- cardiac ablation to destroy damaged heart tissue
- cardiac pacemaker or implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (ICD)
During cardiac rehab appointments, patients are encouraged to exercise at least three times a week. During cardiac rehab visits, cardiac nurses will monitor cardiac function before, during, and after exercise. Patients may also receive treatments to reduce the risk of having cardiac problems in the future such as medications or cardiac catheterization to open blocked heart arteries.
How long to expect to be in cardiac rehab and what are the requirements to end cardiac rehab?
Typically, cardiac rehab usually continues for at least 3 months. Most cardiac rehab clinics require patients to attend for one hour per day, three days a week. The cardiac rehab program is created to help cardiac patients get back into their normal daily activity and eventually be able to end cardiac rehab. Cardiac patients are expected to continue doing the things they have been taught in cardiac rehab on their own. If cardiac rehab is not continued after cardiac rehab ends, cardiac patients are at a greater risk of cardiac-related problems and death. A cardiac patient should expect to receive an exercise plan from the cardiac rehab team that they will need to follow for the rest of their lives. This exercise plan can include strength training, cardiac rehab exercise routines, and cardiac rehab aerobic exercises.
Cardiac patients can expect cardiac rehab to last from 3 months up to a year or more. It all depends on how fast the cardiac patient recovers from cardiac surgery or cardiac event. If they have any other medical problems that need to be treated, this will also affect how long a cardiac patient has cardiac rehab. A cardiac patient who does not stay in cardiac rehab and follows the cardiac rehab exercise plan after cardiac rehab ends is also at a greater risk of cardiac issues and death.
If you have cardiac problems, it’s important to continue cardiac rehab even when you feel better as this can help reduce future complications or cardiac events as well as cardiac death. You should discuss cardiac rehab expectations with your cardiac team to ensure you are both on the same page about cardiac rehab length of stay because cardiac rehab can last up to a year or longer.
If cardiac rehab is not continued, cardiac patients are at risk for cardiac-related problems and cardiac death.