LOS ANGELES, Aug. 18 (UPI) -- Exercise rehabilitation programs can help reduce heart failure symptoms but doctors refer only 1 in 10 patients after a hospitalization, researchers found in a new study.
Most patients who were referred to exercise-based rehab programs tended to be younger, researchers found in a study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, and were also more likely to be prescribed medications when they left the hospital.
"Although we expected some under-referral to cardiac rehabilitation in the heart failure population, the results of this study are startling," said Dr. Gregg Fonarow, the Eliot Corday Chair in Cardiovascular Medicine and Science at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, in a press release. "Given the individual and the public health benefits of such programs and the escalating health care expenditures related to heart failure hospitalizations, our findings point to the need for better strategies to increase physicians' and patients' awareness about the importance of cardiac rehabilitation."
Heart failure occurs when the heart doesn't pump blood and oxygen to other parts of the body properly. This can lead to fatigue and shortness of breath, among other symptoms, caused by fluid and congestion in the lungs.
Researchers analyzed data on 105,619 heart failure patients collected as part of the Get With Guidelines Heart Failure program between 2005 and 2014 who were hospitalized for complications caused by the condition. They found that just 10.4 percent of patients were referred to a rehab program after being treated in a hospital.
Guidelines for patients post-hospitalization recommend they start a 36-week program based around aerobic exercise training, which studies have shown decreases the symptoms of heart failure.
Of those referred after being discharged from the hospital, most were younger and predominantly men, the researchers wrote. The procedures most associated with patients who were sent for rehab included coronary artery bypass grafting, percutaneous coronary intervention, and cardiac valve surgery.
"Physicians who are more likely to incorporate state-of-the-art therapies in the management of heart failure patients appear also to be more likely to refer their patients to cardiac rehabilitation programs," Fonarow said. "This suggests that raising awareness about the benefits of these programs may be an effective strategy for increasing referrals."