Cardiac Rehab After Heart Attack

If I tried to make a list of all my patients who have had a heart attack in the past year, unfortunately I probably would be here awhile. We are NOT good at identifying patients at risk, and many patients refuse treatments and lifestyle changes that are proven to reduce their risk of a heart attack.

AFTER a heart attack, though, we have a very good idea what will reduce the risk of having another one. Sadly, only a very small number of patients take advantage of one of the best measures to reduce the risk of an encore performance: cardiac rehab.

Cardiac rehab consists of 36 one-hour sessions which are covered by Medicare and most if not all commercial insurance. The sessions include

  • supervised exercise training
  • counseling on diet
  • counseling on stress management
  • smoking cessation (if needed)
  • guidance on other measures for heart-healthy living

Researchers at the CDC in Atlanta looked at heart attack and heart failure patients covered by Medicare and found that only 24% of the patients even started cardiac rehab. Of those, on average patients completed only 25 sessions, with only 27% attending the recommended 36 sessions.

Older patients, patients of color, sicker patients and women were less likely to go to cardiac rehab. The study wasn’t designed to figure out why this was seen. However, I can imagine transportation and family support may have been a problem with the older and sicker patients. Access to care is always a problem with patients of color and in this instance doesn’t surprise me. Women in general put their own needs last, and I can definitely see female patients being less likely to attend an extended series of rehab sessions. I can’t even get them to go to 12 physical therapy sessions to address an excruciating musculoskeletal injury!

Cardiac rehab reduces the risk of death in the period after a heart attack. It improves quality of life, mood and functional status. It also reduces the risk of hospital readmission. Every patient with a heart-related hospital stay should be offered (and should take advantage of) cardiac rehab.

If you or a family member find yourself diagnosed with a heart condition, ask your cardiologist or family doctor whether you qualify for cardiac rehab. If you do, GO. Go to ALL the sessions, go until they tell you not to come back anymore. Your heart will thank you!

QUESTION: Did you know about cardiac rehab? Do you know anyone who would benefit from it?

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