Cardiac rehabilitation: your questions answered

Cardiac rehab session at Charing Cross Hospital

Whether you’re trying to get back to normal after a heart attack or you want the tools to help you manage your heart condition for life, cardiac rehabilitation is for you. Sarah Brealey explains how it can help, and talks to people who have been through it themselves.

Cardiac rehabilitation is a term which covers all the help you need in getting back to as full a life as possible after a heart event, such as a heart attack or bypass surgery. It’s also about supporting you to live with your heart condition, to stay as healthy as possible, and to reduce the chance of another heart event.

It covers many kinds of advice and support, from information given to you before you leave hospital, to a long-term physical activity programme.

Who is it for?

Cardiac rehabilitation is most often offered to people who have had a heart attack, coronary angioplasty, or bypass surgery. It can also be helpful if you’ve had an ICD fitted, or have stable heart failure, stable angina, cardiomyopathy or congenital heart disease.

Even if you’ve only had a brief stay in hospital after a heart attack or angioplasty and are feeling well, it’s still useful to attend rehab, to learn how to manage with your condition in the long term and how to reduce your risks as much as you can.

A good cardiac rehabilitation programme should always consider what your individual needs are, how those can be met and how you can enjoy the best possible health in the future.

What does it cover?

Instructor Nigel Harris leading a cardiac rehab sessionThe main aspects of cardiac rehab are reducing your risk factors, protecting your heart and long-term management of your condition. This includes ways that you can improve your lifestyle, such as diet, and stopping smoking and physical activity – usually there will be exercise sessions you can take part in, with experts to keep an eye on you.

You should get information on treatments such as drugs or implantable devices. There should also be support for your broader wellbeing, including assessment of anxiety or depression, tips for dealing with stress, and information on other sources of help. Other topics that may be covered are practical issues such as driving, returning to work, holidays, and what to do in an emergency.

Many people get lots of other positive things out of attending cardiac rehab. This might include feeling more confident about exercise, returning to work, or other aspects of normal life; realising you are not alone in your situation; meeting other people in a similar situation who can provide support; and finding support for partners or carers.

When and where does it happen?

Many people get lots of other positive things out of attending cardiac rehab

Cardiac rehab can start with information you’re given when you’re still in hospital. This should be followed up with an outpatient appointment within four weeks of being discharged.

Cardiac rehab programmes usually start two to six weeks after you leave hospital. Different programmes vary, but usually involve a session once or twice a week for six to 12 weeks. They are usually run in group sessions in a hospital, community centre or leisure centre, but there are also home-based cardiac rehabilitation programmes.

After you finish the programme, you may be able to continue cardiac rehab in community sessions. Many people enjoy attending this kind of exercise sessions for months or years after their heart event. These might be organised by Heart Support Groups, local councils, or private gyms.

What’s the cost?

A programme that your hospital invites you to should be free of charge. Exercise sessions which you might do as an ongoing programme may have a cost attached. The cost will depend on who provides the classes and the venue. Many Heart Support Groups hold classes for a modest fee, perhaps just two or three pounds. Classes organised by a private gym, for example, may cost a little more.

How do I take part?

You should be offered cardiac rehab by your hospital, but this doesn’t always happen. If you feel you would benefit from it and haven’t been offered it within a few weeks of leaving hospital (or of your diagnosis with a condition), speak to your cardiologist or cardiac nurse and ask how you can access cardiac rehab.

The BHF and cardiac rehabilitation

The BHF has tirelessly championed cardiac rehabilitation and has spent more than £6m on developing models of best practice, co-ordinating local services, campaigning for better provision and establishing the National Audit for Cardiac Rehabilitation.

But the provision and take-up of services remains patchy across the UK, and we want to see this addressed, with full NHS funding for services across the UK. We believe every patient who is suitable and wishes to take part should be offered cardiac rehabilitation.

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