“The population of cardiac rehab patients varies,” says Kim Christian, clinical manager of noninvasive cardiology at Piedmont Atlanta Hospital. It can range from patients who have known coronary artery disease to those who have had a heart transplant, and everything in between.
Regardless of which condition they have, patients must overcome mental and physical challenges while recovering from a cardiac event.
“Mentally, patients who have had a cardiac event are very apprehensive to exercise and fear that they’re going to have another cardiac event,” Christian explains.
Patients who have suffered a more serious event can also develop depression, so cardiac rehabilitation focuses on getting them in a positive state of mind.
Patients who are used to working out at a high intensity may need to start at a lower threshold of exercise than they are used to, he says. Those who got little to no exercise prior to their cardiac event will have to start an exercise program, which is also a challenge.
Cardiac rehabilitation has a multidisciplinary team to help patients recover from their heart event, including physicians, cardiologists, registered dietitians, registered nurses, and clinical exercise physiologists.
“All of those people work together as a team for each patient to address all the different needs, not only for exercise – because that’s just one part of cardiac rehab – but also nutritional needs, stress management, weight management and medication management.”
Christian says there are three key elements crucial for a successful cardiac rehabilitation experience: An open mind, positive attitude and willingness to make significant lifestyle changes, if necessary.
Cardiac rehabilitation patients typically complete 12 to 18 weeks of cardiovascular workouts, strength training, nutrition education, and stress and weight management courses. The length of treatment is based on Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) guidelines.
“Patients are allowed to have 36 sessions for the early outpatient and heart disease prevention programs,” he says.
“After patients finish the program, they’ve got the experience and knowledge to understand the risk factors and how to control those risk factors, [through] exercise, nutrition, stress and weight management,” he says. “It allows them to be proactive and take ownership of their cardiac care to significantly reduce instances of [potential] cardiac events in the future.”