Cardiac rehab helps patients feel like themselves again

June 21, 2016 | by Kevin Callison
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

For some people, a heart attack is their first indication that they have heart disease. But for others, the diagnosis may come from something as simple as an abnormal EKG, stress test or heart scan.

Depending on the nature of the problem, treatment can range from medication to open heart surgery, with a number of less invasive procedures in between.

Cardiac rehabilitation (rehab) is a key, but often underestimated, part of treatment for heart disease. While most people in cardiac rehab have had a heart attack or cardiac procedure, even people with mild heart disease can benefit from these programs. Rehab also has been shown to improve quality of life for certain patients with congestive heart failure.

The centerpiece of rehab is the cardio workout during which a participant's heart rate, blood pressure and heart rhythm are monitored. This allows the patient to safely build up their cardiac capacity and lung function, and improve their chances of staying out of the hospital.

The Cardiopulmonary Rehab program at Edward Heart Hospital also includes exercises to build muscle strength and balance.

Our staff includes cardiac nurses and experts in exercise physiology, nutrition and emotional health. These healthcare professionals offer weekly educational sessions on cardiac health, nutrition and stress management. Sometimes they also serve as liaisons with the patient's physician, addressing issues that have come up during rehab.

We've seen a number of patients who are angry or scared about their condition balk at the idea of rehab. But if they give the program a couple of weeks, they often make a 180 degree turn in attitude. They tell us they’re happy to continue now that they realize how much better they can feel.

Rehab typically is offered in three phases. In Phase I, patients practice range of motion exercises and walking while they're still in the hospital. About one to four weeks after discharge, patients enter Phase II, a 12-week program of monitored aerobic exercise three times a week. This is followed by Phase III, an optional maintenance program to help participants make a habit of fitness.

The benefits of cardiac rehab are emotional as well as physical. When a patient can do more physically they feel more secure and hopeful about their progress. And they're encouraged when they see others in the group improving. There's also camaraderie. Many enjoy sharing ideas and support with other group members before their sessions.

Cardiac rehab not only helps to improve the survival rate for people with heart disease, it also helps them avoid complications and function better in their daily lives. We even see patients in their late 20s and early 30s who never exercised before become true believers in fitness.

Nothing is more gratifying than to hear a patient of any age say that rehab has helped them feel like themselves again, sometimes even better than ever.

Learn more about cardiac care at Edward-Elmhurst Health.

Find out if you’re at risk for heart disease.

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