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Cardiac Rehabilitation: Mending the Heart
Cardiac rehabilitation. Learning to live again, one step at a time.

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Picture of patient exercising after heart attack, mending the heart and doing Cardiac Rehabilitation Cardiac Rehabilitation: Mending the Heart

If you have been sidelined by a heart attack, heart surgery, or another heart or blood vessel problem, you may worry whether you'll ever get back on your feet. The road to recovery can be challenging, but a cardiac rehabilitation program can help. Cardiac rehab can help:

  • Recovery (for example after a heart attack or heart surgery)
  • Reduce your chances of future heart problems
  • Restore your confidence and quality of life

Cardiac rehab isn't just about exercise. That's usually an important part, but, there's much more to it. Being in cardiac rehab also means you will take part in supervised medical programs that address all aspects of recovery. Programs typically include counseling and support for needed exercise, nutrition, and lifestyle changes. You may also be evaluated for depression and stress - which often follow a serious health event like a heart attack. Research shows that people who actively take part in cardiac rehab programs live longer and have a better quality of life than those who don't.

Cardiac rehabilitation is helpful for people who have these conditions or procedures:

  • Heart failure
  • Chest pain
  • Heart attack
  • Atrial fibrillation or other heart rhythm problems
  • Peripheral arterial disease (problems with circulation in your legs)
  • Bypass surgery, angioplasty, or heart valve surgery
  • Placing a pacemaker or other cardiac device
  • Heart transplant

Cardiac rehab programs are typically designed in several phases. This stepped approach safely and gradually gets you back on your feet and helps you learn how to make healthy life choices. Rehab often starts while you are still in the hospital. Members of your health care team may begin the step-by-step process of getting you moving again. While in the hospital, that may mean just getting out of bed, getting dressed, or taking a shower.

As you get better, your rehab goals progress with you. You may receive cardiac rehab services in your home or an outpatient facility. In any setting, you'll be closely monitored and coached by trained health professionals. As you recover, you will gradually be able to do more on your own and with less supervision.

Adapting to life with a heart condition can be overwhelming. It takes time for your body to heal and you'll be faced with many changes and new things to learn. To help you with this, cardiac rehab is usually paced over several weeks to months. As you're ready, you'll work with dietitians and counselors to learn how to make heart-healthy food choices and explore ways to make important lifestyle changes. These may include quitting smoking and reducing your blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Your cardiac rehab team may also help you learn how to take your medications and manage stress.

Finally, a key part of cardiac rehabilitation is learning about your heart condition and understanding your limitations. Your cardiac rehab team will help you recognize symptoms that require immediate action and what changes to report to your doctor. With time and support, you'll soon regain the strength and self-reliance to live an active and healthful life.

By Geri K. Metzger, Staff Writer
Created on 02/19/2008
Updated on 06/30/2011
  • Balady GJ, Williams MA, Ades PA, et al. Core components of cardiac rehabilitation/secondary prevention programs: 2007 update. Circulation. 2007;115:2675-2682.
  • American Heart Association. Cardiac rehabilitation.
  • Clark AM, Hartling L, Vandermeer B, McAlister FA. Meta analysis: secondary prevention programs for patients with coronary artery disease. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2005;143(9):659-672.
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