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Cardiac Catheterization: What is it and do I need it?

Updated: Dec 6, 2022

My dad had his first heart attack before he turned 50. Thankfully he survived, but he would have several more cardiac emergencies (including two more heart attacks) before he decided to try cardiac rehabilitation. Before trying cardiac rehabilitation my dad had a tough time making the necessary lifestyle changes on his own, and admits how cardiac rehabilitation may have been beneficial for him following his first heart attack.

What is cardiac rehabilitation?

Cardiac rehabilitation is a program offered by a multi-disciplinary team of providers to patients with a history of heart attack, heart failure, heart surgery, or other less invasive procedures, such as an angioplasty (a procedure where a balloon is placed in an artery to increase blood flow). The purpose of this program is to reduce the likelihood of another serious cardiac event. The program includes counseling on healthy eating and living. You will also likely take classes on stress management, ways to exercise your heart, and learn the warning signs of a heart attack or other cardiac emergency. You’ll also receive guidance on heart-healthy foods which reduce the risk of experiencing a cardiac emergency. Cardiac rehabilitation programs are typically offered in a hospital or outpatient setting, but have more recently been offered in the home setting. Some programs may start during or immediately after a hospital stay for a cardiac event, and last anywhere from 2-8 months.

What are the benefits of cardiac rehabilitation?

Cardiac rehabilitation is an opportunity to take control of your physical and mental health. You’ll work with medical team members to create goals for your heart health. For example, if you’re a smoker, you can collaborate with nurses on your team to determine the best plan to help you quit. Say that you are not a fan of exercising by treadmill or bike machine, your team’s physical therapist or other exercise professional can introduce other ways to exercise (dancing, swimming, or boxing are great options). What about finding a healthy balance between eating healthy while still allowing for indulgence in a sweet or salty treat? They can help with that too, as cardiac rehabilitation teams often have a dietitian or other nutrition expert who can help you plan healthier meals. You’ll also likely meet with a counselor to help identify ways to reduce your stress. The bottom line is that the team is there to work with you and provide options to hurdles you may have encountered when attempting lifestyle changes benefitting your heart. Other benefits to consider when thinking about cardiac rehabilitation include increased quality of life, and decreased risk of future hospitalizations, disability, other chronic illness, and death.

How to incorporate what you’ve learned in cardiac rehabilitation

Sometimes we find ourselves in environments which motivate us to do the things that increase our longevity, but we find it challenging to keep that enthusiasm when we return home. Here are some things to consider:

1. Take notes during the classes. This will give you a chance to review information at a later date and commit pertinent material to memory.

2. Find an accountability partner. Our friends and family may not always understand the necessary lifestyle changes we are trying to make, but it absolutely helps when you find like-minded people to remind you that you’re not alone in making lifestyle changes. Several of my friends and family have apple watches, allowing us to track each other’s move and exercise rings. We’re able to “compete” with each other weekly as a way to help each other meet our daily fitness goals. If this is not an option, consider using a free app that tracks your food and exercise goals. Encourage friends or family to join the app too. MyFitnessPal is a good free option, but there are dozens of other free apps.

3. Consider finding a class that helps you work toward those goals created in cardiac rehabilitation. Exercise classes are worthwhile, but so are cooking and meditation classes. Look for these classes in your community, as each will help you strengthen the tools needed to take charge of your physical and mental health. You may also find that your local hospital offers nutrition and other health classes.

4. Be kind to yourself. Lifestyle changes do not always occur overnight. Give yourself credit for making attempts at living a healthier life. Monitor your progress and celebrate the small and large wins equally.

How to access cardiac rehabilitation teams

You’ll need a referral from your doctor or primary care provider for cardiac rehabilitation services. Insurance plans, including Medicare and Medicaid, may cover cardiac rehabilitation with a doctor’s referral. This service is typically offered following a serious cardiac event, but can be offered following certain cardiac procedures. If your provider does not immediately suggest this service, bring it up at your next appointment, and find out why they may or may not recommend it for you at this time. Work with your provider to find the best solutions for your heart health. Cardiac rehabilitation may not be for you, but it could benefit a loved one.


American Heart Association. (2016). What is cardiac rehabilitation? Retrieved from:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 2021. How cardiac rehabilitation can help heal your heart. Retrieved from:

McMahon, S. R., Ades, P. A., & Thompson, P. D. (2017). The role of cardiac rehabilitation in patients with heart disease. Trends in cardiovascular medicine, 27(6), 420-425.

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