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Cardiac rehab strategies should look beyond return-to-work: study

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Hellerup, Denmark – Nearly a quarter of workers who return to their jobs after experiencing a heart attack leave within one year, according to a new study.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 39,000 people 30 to 65 years old who had their first heart attack between 1997 and 2012. They found that 91 percent of the 22,394 heart attack patients who were employed before the attack returned to work within one year. Of those, however, 24 percent left their jobs within one year of returning.

Results also showed that 30- to 39-year-olds made up one of the two age groups that left their jobs at the highest rate. (The other was 60- to 65-year-olds.) Younger people leaving employment is alarming, the researchers noted, because of the amount of productive work years they have left. Also more likely to drop out of the workforce were people with heart failure, depression or diabetes. Higher education and income were indicators of workers most likely to stay on the job.

The researchers suggest that long-term cardiac rehabilitation is equally or more important than focusing on returning to work.

“When evaluating a heart attack patient’s quality of life and functional capacity, simply returning to work after a heart attack isn’t enough,” study lead author Laerke Smedegaard, M.D., of Herlev and Gentofte University Hospital, said in an Oct. 4 press release. “Our findings suggest that cardiac rehabilitation after a heart attack should also focus on helping people maintain their ability to work in the long term for those who return to work.”

The study was published in the Oct. 4 issue of the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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