A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

What is cardiopulmonary rehabilitation?

person playing basketball considering cardiopulmonary rehab

Cardiopulmonary rehab is the combined term for cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitations which include supervised education and exercise programs individually tailored to patients.

Cardiopulmonary rehab is the combined term for cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitations. Both are education and exercise programs tailored to patients with long-term lung or heart diseases or those recovering from a heart attack.

Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation

“Both cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation programs combine education and exercise to improve the patient’s quality of life,” explained Abdullah Al Twal, MD, pulmonary critical care physician at Marshfield Clinic Health System. “However, the main difference between the two is that pulmonary rehab focuses on improving the lungs, while cardiac rehab takes care of the heart.”

Rather than exercising at a gym or home, patients may go to a hospital, health center or clinic for cardiopulmonary rehab. You work with a team of health care professionals that include physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, physical therapists and dietitians.

Cardiac vs. pulmonary rehabilitation

Cardiac rehab primarily works for patients recovering from a heart attack, living with heart failure or other heart diseases requiring surgery or medical care. Education typically covers risk factors for heart disease and lifestyle changes that patients can make to maintain heart health.

Pulmonary rehab, on the other hand, is designed for patients with long-term lung diseases. These include COPD, asthma, pulmonary fibrosis, lung cancer, cystic fibrosis or recovery from COVID-19. Education for pulmonary rehab often focuses on breathing techniques, preventing infections and proper inhaler techniques.

Both programs include an element of physical activity designed and monitored by your health care team.

Patients can typically expect to attend rehab sessions multiple times per week for around three months. However, the frequency and length of the program is determined for each person by their insurance coverage.

Why get cardiopulmonary rehab?

Dr. Al Twal explained that anyone with long-term lung disease who has trouble breathing, regardless of how bad their illness is, will benefit from pulmonary rehab. The same applies for people with heart diseases regardless of their age or gender.

In both cases, patients and their care teams are working toward an improved quality of life. They are also learning how to cope with their illness and keeping them out of the hospital in the future.

The benefits of cardiopulmonary rehab can be both physical and mental. Patients can reduce breathlessness, stress and anxiety as well as improve mood, energy and stamina. In addition, rehab programs can reduce the risk of future problems. “Research shows that cardiopulmonary rehab reduces the risk of hospital admissions. Those who do get admitted tend to stay for less time,” Dr. Al Twal said.

Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation can be helpful for many people experiencing a variety of concerns. To learn more or if you feel cardiopulmonary rehab would benefit you, talk to your doctor.

For more about cardiopulmonary rehab, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

Learn more about Pulmonary Medicine Learn more about Cardiac Rehab

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