For many heart patients, treatment doesn’t end with surgery or medication. It includes the component of Cardiac Rehab – a physical rehabilitation program designed specifically for them. McLeod Cardiologist Alan Blaker, MD explains:
Here are key points from Dr. Blaker’s interview:
Cardiac rehabilitation has been very useful in our ability to help patients return to a good quality of life after bypass surgery, a heart attack or procedures to fix blockages, such as balloons or stents. More recently, cardiac rehab has also been helpful for congestive heart failure patients and has been approved by Medicare for patients, who have recently been hospitalized with a worsening condition of congestive heart failure.
In cardiac rehabilitation, we generally think about 3 Phases. Phase 1 occurs in the hospital. If someone has a heart attack or bypass surgery, they will likely be visited by a Phase One Cardiac Rehab Nurse. This is to start the instructions about exercise and possibly progress to some mild exercises while still in the hospital. We then move on to Phase 2, which is outpatient. It usually lasts about 12 weeks, three times a week. It’s a supervised exercise program. In most cases, the patient will be on a monitor during exercise. Phase 3 is a longer-term program, where the patient continues in a less supervised setting but on a program of gradually increasing exercise.
In cardiac rehabilitation the first goal is to improve the patient’s exercise tolerance. Even a patient, who may have remaining heart artery blockages and experiences some angina, can slowly increase their exercise and raise their tolerance.
The second goal for cardiac rehab is to assess a patient’s nutritional needs, so that with dietary advice they can modify risk factors related to what they eat. Lipids are generally checked. By coordinating with the patient’s primary care physician or cardiologist, we can modify certain medications to reduce cholesterol.
Cardiac rehabilitation also gives us the opportunity to monitor blood pressure and keep hypertension under control. We can also continue looking for irregular heart rhythm problems, which can occur after a heart attack or procedure. By continued monitoring through cardiac rehab, we can quickly address these problems before they become serious.
We regularly see camaraderie among our cardiac rehab patients develop through talking with other cardiac patients – sometimes younger or older – to see how they learn to live with their heart disease.
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