Long-term effects of cardiac rehabilitation after heart valve surgery – results from the randomised CopenHeart VR trial.

Sibilitz KL; Tang LH; Berg SK; Thygesen LC; Risom SS; Rasmussen TB; Schmid JP; Borregaard B; Hassager C;
Køber L; Taylor RS; Zwisler AD;

Scandinavian cardiovascular journal : SCJ [Scand Cardiovasc J] 2022 Dec; Vol. 56 (1), pp. 247-255.

Aims . The CopenHeart VR trial found positive effects of cardiac rehabilitation (CR) on physical capacity at 4 months. The long-term effects of CR following valve surgery remains unclear, especially regarding readmission and mortality. Using data from he CopenHeart VR Trial we investigated long-term effects on physical capacity, mental and physical health and effect on mortality and readmission rates as prespecified in the original protocol.
Methods . A total of 147 participants were included after heart valve surgery and randomly allocated 1:1 to 12-weeks exercise-based CR including a psycho-educational programme (intervention group) or control. Physical capacity was assessed as peak oxygen uptake (VO 2 peak) measured by cardiopulmonary exercise testing, mental and physical health by Short Form-36 questionnaire, Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale, and HeartQol. Mortality and readmission were obtained from hospital records and registers. Groups were compared using mixed regression model analysis and log rank test.
Results . No differences in VO 2 peak at 12 months or in self-assessed mental and physical health at 24 months (68% vs 75%, p  = .120) was found. However, our data demonstrated reduction in readmissions in the intervention group at intermediate time points; after 3, 6 (43% vs 59%, p  = .03), and 12 (53% vs 67%, p  = .04) months, respectively, but no significant effect at 24 months.
Conclusions . Exercise-based CR after heart valve surgery reduces combined readmissions and mortality up to 12 months despite lack of improvement in exercise capacity, physical and mental health long-term. Exercise-based CR can ensure short-term benefits in terms of physical capacity, and lower readmission within a year, but more research is needed to sustain these effects over a longer time period. These considerations should be included in the management of patients after heart valve surgery.