How Do I Address My Concerns About Cardiac Rehab?

Updated:Feb 26,2018

Do it for your heart

If you recently experienced a cardiac event or surgery but have not participated in a cardiac rehab program, it’s time to find out why. Cardiac rehabilitation is so important and beneficial, yet fewer than 20 percent of eligible patients participate. You need support to rehabilitate, recover and realize a new life after a cardiac event or diagnosis.

Kathryn Moore, a heart attack survivor, discusses how she benefited from participating in cardiac rehab:

Here are questions and answers about some of the common barriers to participating in cardiac rehab.

Q: Do I need a referral from my doctor to go to cardiac rehab?
A: Yes — and lack of a referral from a doctor is one of the top reasons patients don’t go. After all, it’s hard to participate in something you didn’t even know about. Studies show that women are even less likely than men to be referred to cardiac rehab, even though those who complete it receive greater health benefits. So, ask your doctor for a referral.

Q: My doctor is always so busy. How can I get a referral when it’s hard to just communicate?
A: Doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals are frequently rushed and can’t always spend as much time as you—or they—would like in order to explain everything. You can help by being patient, persistent and organized. Write down any questions you might have in advance of every appointment. (See our list of cardiac rehab-related questions.)

If you are having trouble communicating with your doctor because of a language barrier, bring a family member or friend with you who can translate. If you have no one like that available, ask your doctor’s office if they could provide an interpreter — but be sure to ask well in advance of appointments. Either way, politely let your healthcare provider know you have trouble understanding them; ask them to speak as slowly and clearly as possible. Request assistance if you are hearing-impaired.

Q: At my age, I don’t see how cardiac rehab could help. Isn’t it really too late for me?
A: Cardiac rehab isn’t only about having a healthier future and hopefully living longer — it’s also about having better quality of life right now. Whether you are 38 or 88, you are alive this moment — and it’s a precious gift. Talk with your medical team to find out how a cardiac rehab program can be tailored to your age and your physical capacity. Make today count.

Q: I just never feel good. How am I supposed to benefit from cardiac rehab if I’m too sick to go?
A: Feeling lousy makes most of us want to crawl in bed and stay there. Sometimes, that’s what our body needs as it works to heal. But that can also become a trap that leads to other health problems. Talk with your medical team. Tell them exactly how you’re feeling — where you have pain or discomfort, what symptoms you’re experiencing. If they determine that you can safely participate in cardiac rehab, ask them to be specific about any limitations and how much you should push yourself. And then go. Cardiac rehab helps you get better — and hopefully feel better — when you stick with it over time.

Q: My family and friends aren’t really into this kind of thing. What are my options?
A: It’s hard to make healthy choices for yourself when the people around you don’t support your efforts. Eating habits, attitudes toward health, and long-held traditions get passed along and reinforced from generation to generation. Trying to introduce change can be seen as somehow going against the values of your family or community. We suggest starting by gently educating your loved ones about why you need to eat differently or become more physically active. The people who really care about you don’t want you to be sick — or worse. So, let them know that going to cardiac rehab and making healthy choices are about avoiding another heart event, not about disrespecting them.

Q: I have too many responsibilities at work and home to bother with cardiac rehab. How can I resolve work schedule conflicts and balance everything?
A: We know it can be difficult to put your heart-health first when you have other responsibilities. But you need a healthy heart before you can do anything else. Work with your medical team, work with your employer, and work with your family so that everyone understands: your heart problem wasn’t a vacation — it was a wake-up call. If you want to get back to your regular responsibilities, make cardiac rehab your top priority.

Q: What if I can’t afford the co-pays my health plan requires — or don’t even have health insurance?
A: Health coverage in the United States continues to change. We’ve summarized health insurance options and offered suggestions on possible sources of financial assistance here.

Q: What if there are no cardiac rehab programs in my community — or at least within a reasonable distance from me? Transportation is a problem for me.
A: First, be sure you know all your options. When you get a cardiac rehab referral from your doctor, explain that you don’t have easy access to transportation and live far from the nearest program. Ask about medical transport services (sometimes called para-transit or accessible transportation). Ask about homebound cardiac rehab. If you do not have access to a cardiac rehab program, we offer a helpful alternative in the form of our Active Partnership for the Health of Your Heart™ program. It contains information and tools to help you regain and manage your heart health, including our Active Partnership workbook and DVD.

Q: I don’t have anyone to help me through this. Where can I find social support?
A: We’re here for you! Emotional support makes a huge difference in how you recover from a heart-related event. That’s why the American Heart Association offers a wonderful Support Network. It’s free. It’s easy to register. And you can join this community of fellow patients and caregivers on the day-to-day journey toward a healthier life today.

This content was last reviewed July 2016.

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