How patients learn to trust their hearts again after a heart attack

September 20, 2017 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Hearts

A patient who’s suffered a heart attack learns very quickly there’s no down time, no such thing as relaxation. In fact, they find out right away that recovery and rehabilitation begin immediately and are hard work.

According to Edward Hospital cardiac rehab nurse Jana Tindall, RN, "Cardiac rehabilitation is a key first step for recovery after a heart attack, along with the first follow-up appointment with the cardiologist, taking medications as directed, and getting needed social and emotional support."

Phase I of cardiac rehab starts while you’re still hospitalized. At Edward, a cardiac rehab nurse and exercise physiologist explain your condition and medications, and recommend diet and activity levels for when you return home.

Patients are encouraged to schedule Phase II cardiac rehab after they’ve been home for a few weeks. This 12-week program of monitored exercise helps strengthen the heart, while providing a safe environment for tracking exercise tolerance. The department’s healthcare professionals observe a patient’s efforts via telemetry and talk to them about their medications and potential side effects.

Each session also features a discussion about maintaining a healthy lifestyle after a heart attack. Lectures explore the role of good nutrition, stress management, dealing with the emotional impact of a heart attack and the importance of a permanent commitment to exercise.

Says Edward Hospital cardiac rehab exercise physiologist Emily Santona, "Some people have the misconception that once they’ve had angioplasty or a bypass, nothing like a heart attack could happen again. But once you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease you’re always at increased risk. It’s key to know your risk factors and how to manage them."

There’s also a lighter side to cardiac rehab. Members of a rehab group encourage each other, share a laugh or two, and often form a bond. Some even get together socially after their Phase II rehab is finished.

When Phase II ends, patients have a couple of options to continue their recovery more independently. Edward offers a maintenance program called Phase III rehab. Participants aren’t monitored, but the staff regularly checks blood pressure. Many patients who finish Phase II choose to continue their exercise program at their fitness center or home gym.

"Toward the end of Phase II, we advise patients about how often and how intensely they should exercise when on their own," says Santona. "Many start by building on where they left off on the cardio machines in rehab, referring to intensity reports we give them on the length and intensity of their workouts. We talk about staying aware of their intensity levels and determining a target heart rate."

"We also remind patients that staying active means more than spending an hour at the gym a few times a week," says Tindall. “We suggest they find ways, within their personal exertion limits, to keep moving. They can park farther out and take the stairs. And if they’re going to be sitting for a couple of hours or more, they should get up and walk around regularly.

"People learn that their risk of another (cardiac) event is affected by what they do, whether that means maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking or exercising. I often hear patients say that cardiac rehab allows them to trust their hearts again. They gain confidence to take on the ‘new normal’ and live successfully with heart disease."

Learn more about Edward-Elmhurst Health cardiac rehab.

To schedule a cardiac rehab appointment at Edward Hospital, call 630-527-3388; at Elmhurst Hospital, call 331-221-6060.

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