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What is Cardiac Rehabilitation? 
Cardiac rehabilitation is designed to help cardiac patients manage their condition, improve their health and recover their quality of life after a cardiac event, for example after a heart attack, angioplasty, heart surgery or following the diagnosis of heart failure or angina.

The World Health Organisation describes Cardiac Rehabilitation as:
‘The sum of activities required to influence favourably the underlying cause of the disease, as well as the best possible, physical, mental and social conditions, so that people may, by their own efforts preserve or resume when lost, as normal a place as possible in the community.’

What are the main components of Cardiac Rehabilitation?
The main components of Cardiac Rehabilitation are:

  • Education and advice around cardiac health, cardiac medications and risk factor management with referral to other services as appropriate eg dietary services, stress management, smoking cessation
  • Physical activity advice plus an individual exercise prescription as appropriate
  • Relaxation and emotional support
  • A chance to meet others going through a similar experience

When does Cardiac Rehabilitation start?
For most patients cardiac rehabilitation starts after a hospital admission.

In many hospitals, a member of the cardiac rehabilitation team will visit the patient on the ward to give information and advice about their condition, to discuss treatments including lifestyle changes and also to explain ongoing cardiac rehabilitation services once the patient is discharged from hospital.
For other patients referral to a cardiac rehabilitation programme may not have followed a hospital admission but have come via a referral from a Consultant, GP or Cardiac Specialist Nurse.

The phases of Cardiac Rehabilitation
Cardiac rehabilitation can be divided into early and late phases

Early phase - this includes the hospital stay following a cardiac event as well as the support and advice during the early discharge from hospital
 

Late phase - this includes the outpatient cardiac rehabilitation services in the home, community or hospital setting. This can start between one week and six weeks after the hospital stay dependent on the condition and usually consists of exercise and education sessions.  It also includes the long term management of cardiac health, with particular focus on ongoing physical activity and exercise.
 

Rehabilitation programmes vary as to the type of patients they can take and which services they can provide. Ideally programmes consist of a team which includes physiotherapists, nurses, occupational therapists, exercise instructors, dieticians, pharmacists, psychologists and support staff.

Cardiac Rehabilitation and the Physiotherapist's role
Comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation requires the combined skills of a multi-disciplinary team of professionals with the physiotherapist taking a lead role in the exercise training component. 

Chartered physiotherapists have the knowledge, assessment skills and clinical reasoning, combined with an evidence based approach to treatment to be able to undertake the rehabilitation management of patients especially those with multiple health problems.

With their extensive clinical experience and knowledge on health and illness and their specialist understanding of exercise prescription, physiotherapists are able to assess and interpret clinical status and functional capacity to develop safe, effective, individualised rehabilitation exercise programmes.