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Heart Attack Survivors Benefit From Rehab

But too many go without this valuable form of care, experts say

WEDNESDAY, Sept. 26 (HealthDay News) -- Experts in cardiac care have issued new "performance measures" meant to boost patient enrollment in cardiac rehabilitation programs.

They say too many heart attack patients aren't getting the benefit of this form of care.

The new guidelines will also set standards of excellence for these programs and are compiled by the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation (AACVPR), the American College of Cardiology (ACC), and the American Heart Association (AHA).

Experts note that fewer than 30 percent of eligible patients who survive a heart attack or other serious cardiac illness receive cardiac rehabilitation, even though such programs can be as important to patients as leading cardiac medications.

The rate is low, because many patients are not referred to a program or they can't afford it.

"Cardiac rehabilitation is extremely beneficial to patients -- there's plenty of evidence of that -- but it's vastly underutilized," Dr. Randal J. Thomas, director of the Cardiovascular Health Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., said in a prepared statement.

He said studies have shown that such programs help improve the health and life expectancy of cardiac patients. The programs reduce the risk of death after cardiac illness by 20 percent to 25 percent (similar to statin drugs, beta blockers and aspirin) and improve strength and physical endurance by 20 percent to 50 percent. That kind of improvement could determine whether a patient is able to return to an active life.

Along with medically-supervised exercise, cardiac rehabilitation involves assessment of a patient's clinical condition and risk factors, and education and support for living a healthier life and preventing repeat episodes of cardiac illness.

One aim of the new performance measures is to make referral to cardiac rehab an automatic response for doctors treating cardiac patients. To promote that, the document includes referral forms and outlines the best approach to collecting and analyzing data on patient referral to cardiac rehab programs.

The new performance measures, which also seek to ensure the safety and excellence of cardiac rehab programs, are posted on the Web sites of the organizations and are expected to be published in the Oct. 2 issues of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Circulation, and the September/October issue of the Journal of Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation and Prevention.

More information

The American Heart Association has more about cardiac rehabilitation.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: American College of Cardiology, Sept. 20, 2007

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