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Recovering From a Heart Attack

Posted 1/17/2018 by UHBlog

A heart attack needn’t signal the end of working or playing. Talk to us about how cardiac rehab can change your life.

Older couple sitting on doorstep

If you’ve suffered a heart attack or have been diagnosed with other cardiovascular conditions, such as heart failure or angina, you may have undergone catheterization, angioplasty, bypass surgery or even a heart transplant. Now what?

“You have two goals: The first is to fully recover from the illness that brought you to the hospital to begin with, and the second is prevention, or to minimize the risk of future exacerbations,” says cardiologist Richard Josephson, MD. “Cardiopulmonary and vascular rehab checks both of those boxes.”

Heart Rehab: The Sooner the Better

Dr. Josephson prescribes rehab for nearly every patient who suffers a cardiac episode, except those with multiple major health issues and, perhaps, advanced age.

It’s important to begin a reputable cardiac rehabilitation program quickly, as opposed to devising your own wellness plan or skipping follow-up care altogether, says Richard Sukeena, manager of the Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center at University Hospitals Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

“When the patient’s transition from inpatient to outpatient care is not delayed, they have better outcomes because they become engaged more quickly and get back to the general activities of daily living and normal processes of life versus patients who delay the process,” he says. “It’s important to get in sooner rather than later.”

A Team Approach to Recovery

A cardiac rehab program generally involves two or three appointments a week for three months to address physical, psychological and lifestyle concerns. Treatment plans are individualized and involve a multidisciplinary team that may include:

  • Cardiologists
  • Exercise physiologists
  • Physical therapists
  • Pharmacists
  • Dietitians
  • Nurses
  • Tobacco treatment specialists
  • Psychologists or other mental health professionals

The program consists of three components:

  • Phase One educates patients and loved ones about exercise, nutrition, cardiovascular risk factors and what to do at home to further recovery and minimize the chance of recurrence.
  • Phase Two involves exercise sessions, meeting with a case manager, continuing the education process and receiving counseling when appropriate. Dr. Josephson points out there is a high prevalence of depression and anxiety in heart patients.
  • Phase Three addresses cardiovascular risk modification and setting long-term goals.

Sukeena encourages spouses or other loved ones to accompany patients to rehab because those with a support system tend to benefit more from rehab than patients who don’t have a cheerleader.

“The spouse or significant other is typically involved with things like shopping and cooking and has eyes and ears on the patient 24/7,” he says, pointing out that partners may need to reallocate their roles in the household. “If they’re knowledgeable about what the patient is going through, they can make sure the patient is following appropriate recommendations.”

Proven Safe and Effective

Neither fear nor finances should prevent heart patients from participating in a cardiac rehab program, Dr. Josephson says.

“The data is clear: Cardiac rehab is incredibly safe because everything is done in a monitored environment with expert clinical staff,” he says. “The risk is very small during rehab and certainly smaller than were you to decide to just go exercise on your own at the gym or in your basement. It’s also clear, if you participate in rehab, your risk of having a heart attack in the future is lower.”

Furthermore, cardiac rehab is usually covered by Medicare, Medicaid and private insurance.

Richard Josephson, MD is director, Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center, UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

Richard Sukeena is manager, Cardiovascular & Pulmonary Rehabilitation Center at UH Harrington Heart & Vascular Institute.

You can request an appointment with any UH health care provider online.

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