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Cardiac rehabilitation, commonly known as cardiac rehab, takes around three to six months, depending on the patient and his or her condition. It may be possible to complete rehabilitation in less time, or for a program to last longer than six months due to unexpected complications or events. When patients start a cardiac rehab program, they should ask their doctors about a timeline, to get an idea of how much of a time commitment to expect, and to learn more about what will happen during the rehabilitation process. Patients should be aware that situations can change suddenly and unexpectedly, so they should not get too attached to a particular timeline.
Cardiac rehab is recommended for patients who have been treated for various heart conditions or hospitalized for medical procedures on the heart such as valve replacement. While it was originally geared towards keeping low-risk patients out of the hospital, cardiac rehab has since been extended to almost all cardiac patients, as it radically reduces the risk of recurrence, and helps patients get better more quickly while developing stronger hearts.
The process usually starts in the hospital, moving to an outpatient basis once the patient is stable, and eventually taking place entirely at home. A strong cardiac rehab program includes patient education, in which the patient learns about steps he or she can take to manage heart health and prevent problems, along with regular medical examinations, carefully supervised exercise therapy, and support. Support can be provided in the form of counseling, advice, and other services which help patients adjust to life with a heart condition.
In the early stages, cardiac rehab can require a lot of work from the patient and the rehabilitation team. The patient may need to go to the hospital several times a week as an outpatient, and he or she will need to do “homework” outside the hospital. Working hard during the early stages can contribute significantly to the outcome of a cardiac rehab program, making it more likely that the patient will succeed and experience benefits.
In addition to reducing the risk of future hospitalizations and serious health problems, cardiac rehab can also help patients regain ground if their lifestyles have been constrained by heart conditions. A carefully ramped up exercise program, for example, can get the heart in better condition for favorite activities like hiking, playing with grandchildren, or handling animals. Patients should work with their teams to set achievable goals and identify yardsticks which can be used to measure the accomplishment of those goals.
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