What is Cardiac Rehab?


The US Public Health Service defines outpatient cardiac rehabilitation as "...comprehensive, long-term programs involving medical evaluation, prescribed exercise, cardiac risk factor modification, education and counseling. These programs are designed to limit the physiologic and psychological effects of cardiac illness, reduce the risk for sudden death or re-infarction, control cardiac symptoms, stabilize or reverse the atherosclerotic process, and enhance the psychosocial and vocational status of selected patients." In other words, cardiac rehab is a comprehensive, disease-management program designed to improve one's physical function and overall health and quality of life, increase self-confidence in managing chronic heart and vascular disease, and lessen the chances of recurrent hospital admissions for heart problems.

Cardiac rehab professionals work with the patient to achieve the best possible physical, emotional, and medical outcomes after an heart event such as a heart attack, angioplasty procedure, coronary bypass surgery, heart transplant, heart valve repair or replacement, or in those patients on medical management of chronic stable angina.

Cardiac rehabilitation staff may include nurses, exercise physiologists, physical therapists, dieticians, social workers, psychologists, pharmacists, and physicians.
There are typically three phases to cardiac rehabilitation:
  • Inpatient (Phase 1) rehabilitation: Performed during the hospital stay and focused on "survival training" until entry into an outpatient program.
  • Outpatient (Phase 2): Usually three to four months of exercise training, monitoring and education designed to improve strength and endurance, manage heart and vascular disease risk factors, and support healthy behavior changes. This phase is usually covered by a person's health insurance plan, but it is wise to check first before enrolling. Most programs will assist patients in determining their coverage for cardiac rehabilitation.
  • Maintenance: Upon completion of outpatient cardiac rehab, patients continue their exercise programs at home, in community fitness centers, or in maintenance groups in the cardiac rehab center.
You may be eligible to participate in cardiac rehabilitation if you have had one of the following diagnoses or procedures within the past year:
  • Myocardial Infarction (Heart attack)
  • Coronary Artery Bypass Surgery
  • Percutaneous Coronary Angioplasty (PTCA), with or with Coronary Stents
  • Heart Valve Repair or Replacement Surgery
  • Heart Transplant
  • Recent hospitalization for Heart Failure or Angina
  • Peripheral Vascular Disease
  • Heart Failure
You should check with your specific health care plan for coverage of services and applicable co-pays before enrolling in cardiac rehabilitation. If you do not have health care insurance, check with your hospital's financial office or the cardiac rehabilitation program for alternative payment options.