ROME (FRONTLINE MEDICAL NEWS) – Cardiac rehabilitation programs have a previously unappreciated benefit: participants enjoy a 60% reduction in the risk of stroke, Gijs van Halewijn, MD, reported at the annual congress of the European Society of Cardiology.

“I think cardiologists are really focused on cardiovascular deaths, especially from MI. But we’ve shown that cardiac rehabilitation also has an effect on cerebrovascular events,” said Dr. van Halewijn of Erasmus University in Rotterdam (the Netherlands).

“Reduction of stroke is a new challenge,” he added. “It should be a target for cardiac rehabilitation programs and an endpoint for research.”

He presented a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials of cardiac rehab conducted during 2010-2015. The purpose was to assess the value provided by cardiac rehab in the contemporary era of acute coronary syndrome management featuring primary percutaneous coronary intervention, drug-eluting stents, and potent medications for secondary cardiovascular prevention. That hadn’t previously been looked at systematically.

“The standard meta-analyses cited in the field include randomized trials from as far back as just after World War II,” Dr. van Halewijn noted in an interview.

He employed the same search and analytic methods utilized by the Cochrane Collaboration in evaluating 18 randomized controlled trials of lifestyle- or exercise-based cardiac rehab, compared with usual care, in a total of 7,691 participants.

The results of the meta-analysis indicate cardiac rehab provides powerful secondary prevention benefits above and beyond those obtained through contemporary interventional procedures and preventive medications.

Cardiovascular mortality was reduced by 58% in cardiac rehab participants compared with usual care controls. The risk of acute MI was decreased by 30%. And in a new observation, cerebrovascular events were reduced by 60% in the four randomized trials in which that was an endpoint. All of these differences were highly statistically significant.

“Interestingly, the number needed to treat was 45 for MI, so if you have 45 patients included in your cardiac rehabilitation program, you can prevent one MI. And you can prevent one cerebrovascular event with 82 participants,” according to Dr. van Halewijn.

Cardiac rehab had no effect on all-cause mortality in the overall meta-analysis. However, in the trials involving comprehensive cardiac rehab programs targeting six or more of the components of secondary cardiovascular prevention described by the British Association for Cardiac Prevention and Rehabilitation ( Heart. 2013 Aug;99[15]:1069-71 ), participation was associated with a 37% reduction in the risk of all-cause mortality, compared with usual care.

Those components are smoking, blood pressure, cholesterol, HbA1c, exercise training, counseling about the importance of exercise, stress management, and checking medications.

In addition, Dr. van Halewijn continued, cardiac rehab programs in which a physician or nurse made sure participants were on guideline-directed cardiovascular medications had a 65% reduction in all-cause mortality, compared with usual care.

“Cardiac rehabilitation’s opportunity is to evolve into comprehensive programs addressing all aspects of lifestyle, risk factor management, and prescription of medications to reduce death and nonfatal events,” the physician concluded.

This study was supported by Erasmus University Medical Center, Imperial College London, and the Dutch Heart Foundation. Dr. van Halewijn reported having no financial conflicts of interest.


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