Heart failure

Cardiac rehabilitation for heart failure

People with heart failure may be referred for cardiac rehabilitation. Rehabilitation programmes are provided by specialist staff. A cardiac rehabilitation programme (also called Cardiac Rehab) usually includes the following basic areas: supervised exercise sessions, education and relaxation and emotional support. The goals of cardiac rehabilitation are to help people regain strength, to prevent their condition from worsening and to reduce  their risk of future heart problems.

We asked Helen Jackson, Advanced Nurse Practitioner in heart failure, to help explain cardiac rehabilitation programmes for people with heart failure.

Rehab programmes vary; some specialise in heart failure, others are more general and will include people with heart failure as well as those recovering from heart attack or heart surgery. There are hospital-based rehab classes as well as classes organised in leisure centres. Cardiac rehab classes  are also held at GP surgeries, community centres and residential homes. Community-based cardiac rehabilitation classes should be run by a trained instructor, who has experience of running exercise classes for cardiac patients.
Those who had experienced cardiac rehab generally felt it was worthwhile, though some remarked that those with heart failure were usually outnumbered by people who had had heart attacks. Several people went to exercise and relaxation classes once or twice a week and one woman described a relaxation technique called 'stop, drop and flop' she had learned in class. Several people said that rehab classes had been important to them in the beginning and had helped them understand more about heart disease.
As Robert explained, socialising with fellow participants could be as much of a benefit as the supervised exercise. Some who had completed a rehab course had then paid to join the gym to keep going. Not everyone stayed the course; one man said he had only gone once but felt it had given him hope to hear what others had achieved. Another person said that even though he didn't go to classes he sometimes called in to see the rehabilitation nurse at his local hospital or rang her for help and advice.

Not everyone who wanted it was offered cardiac rehab; for instance a woman who was recovering from surgery thought that rehab and some form of home-based follow-up would have helped improve her confidence. Another woman was told she was unsuitable for rehab, which had made her very angry at first until nurses explained exactly why. Later she joined a local patient support group and found it extremely helpful (see ‘Support groups’).

Last reviewed April 2016.
Last updated April 2016.



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