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Cardiac rehabilitation is a programme that aims to medically enhance the cardiovascular health of a patient, who has experienced a recent heart attack, heart failure; or has undergone an angioplasty, angioplasty, heart surgery; or recovered from any other critical heart disease. The rehabilitation programme is conducted under medical supervision and is also called cardiac rehab. 

The ultimate objective of cardiac rehabilitation is to help a patient regain strength, prevent worsening of the condition, reduce future risks and improve the quality of life – after a heart attack or a preventive heart surgery. The programme involves exercise training, emotional counselling, lifestyle education, and more. Cardiac Rehabilitation programmes have known to reduce the risk of death from heart problems, heart diseases and minimise future risks as well. 

Cardiac rehabilitation programmes are customised per individual needs and offer one-to-one supervised training, education and counselling. Through the programme, patient benefits in the following manner:

  • Improve physical health
  • Know beneficial heart-healthy exercises
  • Adopt a nutrition-rich diet
  • Manage cardiovascular risks
  • Follow the prescribed treatment plan
  • Reduce stress
  • Strengthen emotional health
  • Control cardiovascular risk factors (high blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.)

That said, cardiac rehabilitation can prove life-saving for some patients. As per studies, patients who undertake a cardiac rehabilitation programme have 30% lesser fatal heart problems and are 25% less likely to die from heart problems as compared to patients who only opt for standard treatment. Moreover, cardiac rehab helps to lower the chances of a second heart attack and heart surgery. These programmes are comprehensive and provide step-by-step guidance to make long-term health changes.

Some other benefits of cardiac rehabilitation programme include:

  • Lower chest pain and other related problems
  • Fewer medications
  • Preventive care
  • Lower chances of hospitalisation in the long-run
  • Effective weight loss
  • Better nutrition
  • Reduced stress
  • Enhanced emotional well-being

Who should opt for cardiac rehabilitation?

Cardiac rehabilitation is an effective programme for people suffering from a variety of heart diseases or people who are at higher risk of heart problems. In particular, people who have the following medical history are most likely to benefit from the programme.

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Stable chest pain (Angina)
  • Cardiac stenting
  • Angioplasty
  • Coronary artery bypass surgery
  • Heart valve repair or replacement
  • Heart or lung-transplant
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Peripheral artery problems
  • Cardiomyopathy
  • Congenital heart problems
  • Pulmonary hypertension
  • Abusive heart health (due to smoking, excessive alcohol, etc.)
  • Stress-related heart problems
  • High heart-health risk factors (high blood pressure, cholesterol, etc.)

There is no age limit for the programme; it is beneficial for people of all ages and gender.

What are the risks of cardiac rehabilitation?

A cardiac rehabilitation programme is not fit for everyone who has or had a heart problem or surgery. The doctor will assess the patient’s heart condition, overall health including past medical records, and conduct several physical tests to ensure the patient is fit for the programme. 

In some rare cases, the patient might suffer injuries, strained muscles, sprains, etc. due to exercising. But it is temporary and can be treated easily. The team will monitor the patient’s health regularly and provide guidance on how to avoid injury at home. 

What to expect during cardiac rehabilitation?

A normal cardiac rehabilitation is about 3 months long but in some cases, the duration might exceed this depending on the patient’s need and health condition. On the other hand, there are also intensive programmes that last for only one or two weeks. The programme includes supervision, guidance and monitoring by a team of professionals including:

  • Cardiologists
  • Nurse
  • Dieticians
  • Exercise specialists or physical therapists
  • Mental health specialists
  • Occupational therapists

The programme includes various stages:

Medical Assessment: The doctor along with the team of healthcare professionals will conduct initial checks to assess the physical abilities, medical condition and other limitations of the patient. These checks will also be monitored during the course of the programme to detect deviations and alarms timely. The tests will help the team design a cardiac rehabilitation programme designed specifically to meet the needs of the individual and as per the health conditions. 

Physical Activity: This is a very important step that involves light physical exercises such as cycling, jogging, walking, rowing, etc. to improve the cardiovascular health of the patient. These exercise sessions are held at least three times in a week and are conducted such to avoid any injury to the patient.The team will also guide the patient on warming up, cooling down exercises, as well as muscle-strengthening including weight lifting, resistance training, etc.

Lifestyle Education: This stage involves educating the patient about the present medical condition and helping them adopt an active and healthy lifestyle. The team of professionals including the dietician will provide guidance on the diet, nutrition, physical exercises, healthy weight, etc. They will also suggest certain lifestyle modifications such as quitting smoking, minimising alcohol intake, etc. Moreover, the programme will provide education on how to manage present risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, etc. 

Support: The most important and unique aspect of these programmes is the medical support and supervision provided by healthcare professionals. They provide counselling to cope with trauma, depression, anxiety, stress, and other feelings which could otherwise harm the individual and also adversely impact the cardiac rehabilitation programme.

Overall, a cardiac rehabilitation programme can help a patient rebuild life and gain both mental and physical strength. It is safe, highly supervised and very effective. 

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