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What is Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation?

Niki Acker
Updated May 17, 2024
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Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation (CR) is a medical program that helps patients with various cardiac and pulmonary conditions to achieve optimal physical function. Like other branches of rehabilitation medicine, CR consists mainly of exercise, but also provides comprehensive care. In addition to physical exercise, a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program may include evaluation of the patient, risk factor modification, diet and medication, stress management, blood pressure control, and diabetes management. A cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program is led by a case manager, who may be a physical therapist, a cardiac nurse, or an exercise physiologist.

Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation usually begins after the patient has suffered a major cardiopulmonary event, such as a heart attack, or has undergone some sort of heart surgery, such as valve replacement, a coronary bypass, or placement of a coronary stent. However, CR may also be recommended for patients with certain cardiopulmonary diseases, including angina or chest pain, asthma, chronic bronchitis, or emphysema, even if there has been no major medical event. CR aims to improve the patient's physical function after major injury or surgery, and to prevent future complications. Like other forms of rehabilitation, CR helps the patient make life changes for better health, and, hence, does not only consist of office visits. For example, the patient must also follow an exercise and diet regimen outside of the physical therapist's office.

Exercise as a part of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation is predominantly aerobic exercise, which helps strengthen the cardiovascular system and improve its function. Before creating an exercise program, the patient's case manager will perform exercise stress tests to determine the appropriate amount and intensity of exercise for the individual patient. It is very important that cardiac patients exercise as much as a medical professional deems that they are able, as following a CR program has been linked to a 25% decrease in mortality over three years.

Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation also helps cardiac patients reduce risk factors for continued cardiopulmonary problems. These include excess weight, diabetes, smoking, poor diet, stress, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol. After the patient is assessed, his or her personal CR program may include medication, dietary changes, lifestyle changes, and even counseling. Weekly office visits are usually conducted for six to 12 weeks at the beginning of a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program, after which the patient must continue his or her personalized recovery program at home. Ideally, the patient completes CR with the skills and knowledge to lead a more active, productive, and health-conscious life, and to avoid preventable medical issues.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Niki Acker
By Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of interesting and unusual topics to gather ideas for her own articles. A graduate of UCLA with a double major in Linguistics and Anthropology, Niki's diverse academic background and curiosity make her well-suited to create engaging content for WiseGeekreaders. "
Discussion Comments
By strawCake — On Jul 04, 2011

@JessicaLynn - I knew someone that went through cardiac rehab and hated it! This person had a lot of bad habits before his heart attack though and he was very resistant to the changes the case manager suggested. He ended up having another heart attack within the same year and I think it could have been prevented had he stuck with the rehab.

By JessicaLynn — On Jul 03, 2011

I've never specifically heard of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation but I know for a lot of different injuries rehab makes all the difference in recovery. So I believe what the article says about rehabilitation in this case making a dramatic difference in the patient mortality rate.

Niki Acker
Niki Acker
"In addition to her role as a WiseGeek editor, Niki Foster is passionate about educating herself on a wide range of...
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