Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Illustration

Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation: Overview and Practice Questions

by | Updated: May 1, 2024

Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation is a medically supervised program designed to improve cardiovascular and pulmonary health for patients with heart and lung-related conditions.

This multidisciplinary approach involves a range of tailored exercises, education, and support, aimed to enhance the quality of life and functional capacity for patients.

The rehabilitation program targets not only those recovering from surgeries or acute conditions like heart attacks but also individuals suffering from chronic conditions such as congestive heart failure and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

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What is Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation?

Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation is a comprehensive, medically supervised program designed to help improve the cardiovascular and respiratory health of individuals who have experienced cardiac or pulmonary issues. This type of rehabilitation is tailored to meet the needs of each individual and typically involves a multidisciplinary team of healthcare professionals, including cardiologists, pulmonologists, physical therapists, occupational therapists, and dietitians, among others.

Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Patient Treadmill Stress Test Vector Illustration

Primary Goals

The primary goals of cardiopulmonary rehabilitation are to improve functional capacity, reduce symptom severity, enhance quality of life, and lower the risk of future hospitalizations or medical complications.

Patients may be referred to cardiopulmonary rehabilitation following events like a heart attack, heart surgery, or diagnosis of a chronic lung condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).


The program generally consists of several components:

  • Exercise Training: Aerobic exercises like walking, cycling, or swimming are typically prescribed to improve cardiovascular and lung health. Strength training is also commonly included.
  • Education and Counseling: Patients receive education on managing their conditions, medication management, nutrition, and lifestyle changes. This is essential for long-term success and disease management.
  • Behavioral Intervention: Emotional and psychological support is often provided to help patients cope with the psychological stressors that can accompany chronic illness.
  • Monitoring: Frequent medical evaluations and tests may be conducted to monitor patient progress and adjust treatment plans as necessary.
  • Follow-up and Maintenance: Ongoing care is often needed to maintain the benefits gained from the initial phase of rehabilitation.

Note: By following a well-designed cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program, patients are often able to lead more active lives, experience fewer symptoms, and reduce their risk of future medical complications.

Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Indications

Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation is often recommended for a variety of cardiac and pulmonary conditions.

However, a healthcare provider will usually consider the overall health status, current symptoms, and other medical treatments before recommending rehabilitation.

Here are some of the primary indications for cardiopulmonary rehabilitation:

Cardiac Indications

  • Post-Myocardial Infarction (MI): After a heart attack, rehabilitation can help improve cardiovascular fitness and reduce the risk of future cardiac events.
  • Coronary Artery Bypass Grafting (CABG): Following this type of surgery, rehabilitation can facilitate quicker recovery and improve functional capacity.
  • Angioplasty and Stent Placement: Patients who have undergone these procedures often benefit from a structured exercise and education program.
  • Heart Valve Surgery: Rehabilitation can help patients recover faster and improve their physical fitness.
  • Congestive Heart Failure (CHF): While not curative, rehabilitation can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
  • Stable Angina: Patients can learn how to manage symptoms and increase physical activity in a safe manner.
  • Cardiac Transplant: Rehabilitation can help optimize the physical condition of patients who are post-transplant or waiting for a transplant.

Pulmonary Indications

  • Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD): Rehabilitation helps improve exercise tolerance and manage symptoms.
  • Interstitial Lung Disease: This includes conditions like pulmonary fibrosis where rehabilitation can help maintain lung function.
  • Pre- and Post-Lung Transplant: Both before and after lung transplantation, rehabilitation can prepare the body for surgery and aid in post-operative recovery.
  • Asthma: Though generally managed with medications, in some severe or poorly controlled cases, rehabilitation might be beneficial for symptom control.
  • Pulmonary Hypertension: Exercise and education can help manage symptoms and improve quality of life.
  • Cystic Fibrosis: Especially for adults with this condition, rehabilitation can help maintain lung function and improve overall well-being.

Note: Before beginning a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program, it’s essential for the healthcare provider to thoroughly evaluate the patient’s medical history, current condition, and potential contraindications. Each patient’s program is usually tailored to meet their specific needs and medical status.

Cardiopulmonary Rehabilitation Practice Questions

1. What term refers to the restoration of an individual to the fullest medical, mental, emotional, social, and vocational potential of which they are capable?

2. What is the overall goal of rehabilitation?
To maximize the functional ability and minimize the impact the disability has

3. What is the art of medical practice wherein an individually tailored, multidisciplinary program is formulated and attempts to return the patient to the highest possible functional capacity?
Pulmonary rehabilitation

4. What are the general goals of pulmonary rehabilitation?
To control symptoms, restore functional capabilities, and improve the quality of the patient’s life

5. How does an individual maintain homeostasis at rest?
By balancing external, internal, and cellular respiration

6. What increases in a linear fashion as the exercise intensity increases?
Oxygen consumption and CO2 production

7. What refers to the result of an abrupt upswing in both CO2 and VE?
Ventilatory threshold

8. What does exercise in COPD patients result in?
Respiratory acidosis and shortness of breath

9. As ventilation increases in a COPD patient, what else increases significantly?
Oxygen consumption

10. What does reconditioning involve?
It involves strengthening the essential muscle groups, improving the overall oxygen utilization, and enhancing the body’s cardiovascular response to physical activity.

11. What do patients with COPD often have a tendency to develop?
Severe anxiety, hostility, and stress

12. What are the key ingredients in a good rehabilitation program?
Occupational retraining and job placement

13. What are three examples of rehabilitation program objectives?
The development of diaphragmatic breathing skills, the development of stress management, and a focus on group support

14. What should the patient’s complete history be followed by?
A complete physical examination

15. In order to determine the patient’s cardiopulmonary status and exercise capacity, what may be performed?
Both PFTs and a cardiopulmonary exercise evaluation may be performed

16. What are the two key purposes that the cardiopulmonary exercise evaluation serves in pulmonary rehabilitation?
(1) It quantifies the patient’s initial exercise capacity, and (2) it determines the degree of hypoxemia that occurs with exercise

17. What does the second evaluation allow?
The basis for titrating oxygen during exercise

18. The actual exercise evaluation involves continuous measurements of parameters during graded levels of exercise on what?
Either an ergometer or treadmill

19. To allow for steady-state equilibration, how are these graded levels usually spaced?
In 3 minute intervals

20. Work levels are increased progressively until?
They are increased until the patient cannot tolerate a higher level or until an abnormal/hazardous response occurs.

21. What is the pulse oximeter used for during cardiopulmonary rehab?
It is used as a monitor to warn clinicians of gross desaturation and the patient’s response to oxygen.

22. What are three examples of relative contraindications to exercise testing?
(1) Patients who won’t/can’t perform the test, (2) Severe pulmonary hypertension, and (3) An SpO2 < 80%

23. What can an exercise evaluation help differentiate between?
It can help differentiate between respiratory or cardiac limitations to increased work capacity.

24. What are the five safety measures during exercise evaluation?
(1) Physical examination, (2) Qualified physician, (3) Emergency resuscitation device, (4) Basic/advanced life support techniques, and (5) Terminate when indicated

25. When are patients excluded from pulmonary rehabilitation activities?
When their problems limit/preclude participation and when their condition is complicated by malignant neoplasms (lung cancer)

26. The ideal rehabilitation session should run for about how long?
2 hours

27. What does the respiratory therapist initially do during ventilatory muscle training?
They measure the patient’s maximum inspiratory pressure using a calibrated pressure manometer.

28. What is the rate at which a patient should breathe in the manometer?
10-12 breaths/minute

29. As the level of resistance becomes more tolerable over time, the patient should progressively increase session duration up to how long?
Up to 30 minutes

30. What is the cornerstone for the physical reconditioning effort?
Breathing control methods

31. What does the length of a program often depend on?
The length of a program is dependent on insurance coverage and expected reimbursement.

32. What is a normal class size in pulmonary rehab?
3-10 people

33. What does program viability realistically depend on?
The number of participants

34. Sudden cardiac events and orthopedic injuries
Sudden cardiac events and orthopedic injuries

35. What are the common outcome measures in the program results?
Exercise tolerance, levels of dyspnea at rest/exertion, and quality of life surveys

36. What is one of the major predictors for improvement in a COPD patient’s health-related quality of life?
Frequent attendance in a maintenance program

37. What are the major reasons for unsatisfactory outcomes?
Insufficient training, lack of uniformity, inadequate program length, and a lack of follow-up

38. Pulmonary rehabilitation has become recognized as a prerequisite for which patients?
Emphysema patients who are able to undergo lung volume reduction surgery

39. What is defined as a comprehensive exercise and educational program designed for patients with cardiovascular diseases?
Cardiac rehabilitation

40. What are the goals of cardiac rehabilitation?
Patient education, physical reconditioning to improve work capacity, weight loss, and to help the patient return to work

41. What is the goal of a structured cardiac rehabilitation program?
To assist patients in developing a regular pattern of safe exercise to achieve greater performance

42. What is the age of cardiac patients compared to pulmonary patients?
The age ranges from 30 to 70 for cardiac patients. For pulmonary patients, it’s typically indicated at the age of 50 and up.

43. Absolute contraindications for conducting a cardiopulmonary exercise evaluation include all of the following except?
Diastolic blood pressure greater than 110 mmHg

44. Attrition in pulmonary rehabilitation programs is most associated with which of the following?
The degree to which patients’ psychosocial needs are met

45. Below what level of the predicted FEV1/FVC are patients with irreversible airway obstruction considered good candidates for pulmonary rehabilitation?

46. By following the reimbursement guidelines for a comprehensive outpatient rehabilitative facility (CORF), Medicare will reimburse up to what percentage of the allowable charge for a rehabilitation program?

47. A cardiopulmonary exercise evaluation is conducted on a patient before participation in pulmonary rehabilitation for what purposes?
To quantify the patient’s baseline exercise capacity, develop an exercise prescription (including target heart rate), and determine how much desaturation occurs with exercise

48. During exercise, the point at which increased levels of lactic acid production result in an increased VCO2 and VE is referred to as what?
The ventilatory threshold

49. During inspiratory resistive exercises, the desired load should be about what percentage of the maximum inspiratory pressure?

50. For which of the following patients would you recommend an open-ended format for a pulmonary rehabilitation program?
Those with scheduling difficulties, those who require individual attention, and those who are self-directed

51. In preparing an outpatient for a cardiopulmonary stress test to be conducted the next day, which of the following instructions would you provide?
The patient should fast for at least 8 hours before testing. The patient should wear loose-fitting clothing and sneakers. The patient should review the drugs with the physician.

52. Knowledge from the clinical sciences is used in pulmonary rehabilitation programming for mainly what purpose?
To quantify the extent of physiological impairment and to set expectations for reasonable outcomes

53. Knowledge from the social sciences is used in pulmonary rehabilitation programming for mainly what purpose?
To determine the impact of the disability on the patient or family and to establish ways to improve the patient’s quality of life

54. Minimum equipment requirements for the physical reconditioning component of a pulmonary rehabilitation program include which of the following?
Inspiratory resistive breathing devices, rowing machines or upper extremity ergometers, and pulse oximeters

55. A patient is being considered for participation in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. Which of the following pulmonary function tests would you recommend be performed as a component of the preliminary evaluation?
Lung volumes, including functional residual capacity (FRC), Diffusing capacity (DLCO), and Pre- and post-bronchodilator flow rates

56. A patient is being considered for participation in a pulmonary rehabilitation program. Which of the following test regimens would you recommend in order to ascertain the patient’s cardiopulmonary status?
Cardiopulmonary exercise evaluation and pulmonary function testing

57. The physical reconditioning component of a pulmonary rehabilitation program usually includes which of the following?
Aerobic exercises for the extremities, timed walking exercises, and ventilatory muscle training

58. The principal objectives of pulmonary rehabilitation include which of the following?
To control and alleviate the symptoms, restore functional capabilities as much as possible, and improve the quality of life

59. Reconditioning the inspiratory muscles of patients undergoing pulmonary rehabilitation is accomplished through which of the following methods?
Performing inspiratory resistive breathing exercises

60. A small-group discussion format for pulmonary rehabilitation educational sessions is recommended in order to foster which of the following?
Group interaction, peer support, and group identity

61. A small pulmonary rehabilitation program class size has which of the following beneficial effects?
It facilitates group interaction, allows for more individualized attention, helps to sustain participant motivation, and reduces the likelihood of attrition

62. To deal with incidents of hypoxemia, dyspnea, or airway hyperreactivity during physical reconditioning activities, which of the following should be available in the rehabilitation area?
Bronchodilator agents and emergency oxygen

63. To increase the likelihood that positive patient results are lasting, what must pulmonary rehabilitation programs provide?
Periodic follow-up and reinforcement

64. To physically recondition a patient and increase exercise tolerance, which of the following must be accomplished?
The body’s overall oxygen utilization must be improved, the patient’s essential muscle groups must be strengthened, and the cardiovascular response to exercise must be enhanced

65. What are some relative contraindications for cardiopulmonary exercise testing?
Severe pulmonary hypertension or cor pulmonale, known electrolyte disturbances (e.g., hypokalemia), SaO2 or SpO2 less than 85% breathing room air, and untreated or unstable asthma

66. What are the overall goals of rehabilitation?
To minimize the disability’s impact on the individual or family and to maximize the functional ability of the individual

67. What is the first step in evaluating patients for participation in a pulmonary rehabilitation program?
Complete patient history

68. What is the level of involvement of the respiratory therapist in cardiac rehabilitation?
A respiratory therapist’s involvement is significantly less than in pulmonary rehabilitation

69. What are the three components of a cardiopulmonary rehabilitation program?
Physical activity, education, and emotional support

70. What are the differences between cardiac and pulmonary rehabilitation?
Cardiac patients are typically younger, reimbursement is easier to obtain with cardiac rehabilitation, and breathing exercises are not essential for cardiac patients.

71. Which of the following medical professionals are commonly involved in cardiopulmonary rehabilitation programs?
Respiratory therapists, nurses, cardiologists, and pulmonologists

72. Which of the following elements should be considered in most pulmonary rehabilitation programs?
The individual’s needs, the patient’s education, the patient’s personality, and the patient’s attitude

73. Which of the following is NOT a factor affecting the cost of a pulmonary rehabilitation program?
The patient’s health insurance

74. Which of the following is NOT a reasonable expectation for a pulmonary rehabilitation program?
Reversal of the disease process

75. Which of the following measures during cardiopulmonary exercise evaluation are most useful in differentiating between exercise intolerance of cardiac versus ventilatory origin?
PaCO2 and PaO2

76. Which of the following occurs when the ventilatory threshold is exceeded during exercise?
The patient’s metabolism becomes anaerobic, and fatigue increases.

77. Which of the following outcome measures is considered a major predictor for improvement in a COPD patient’s health-related quality of life?
Frequent attendance in a maintenance program

78. Which of the following patients are NOT good candidates for pulmonary rehabilitation?
Unstable cardiovascular patients who require monitoring, and patients with malignant neoplasms involving the lungs

79. Which of the following topics should be covered in a rehabilitation education session on respiratory home care?
Self-administration of therapy, care of the home equipment (e.g., cleaning), and safe use of the home care equipment

80. Which of the following would you not expect to observe after a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) patient completes a sound pulmonary rehabilitation program?
A permanent increase in forced expiratory volume in 1 second (FEV1) and forced expiratory flow (FEF25%-75%)

81. While you are assisting in a treadmill cardiopulmonary stress test procedure, the patient complains to you of severe shortness of breath and some chest pain. Which of the following actions would you recommend at this time?
Terminate the procedure at once and notify the physician

82. What are the two types of pulmonary rehabilitation that improve ventilation?
Diaphragmatic breathing and pursed-lip breathing

83. What is the goal of cardiopulmonary rehab?
The primary goal is to achieve and maintain the individual’s maximum level of independence and functionality in the community.

84. Under the psychosocial support component of cardiopulmonary rehab, what two factors are common with patients who have a chronic pulmonary disease?
Depression and hostility

85. What can cause or aggravate physical problems associated with cardiopulmonary rehab?

86. What are the two major aims of a cardiopulmonary rehab program?
(1) To control and alleviate disease symptoms, and (2) To help patients achieve optimal levels of activity

87. What happens with cardiac output during exercise in healthy adults?
At low workloads, both SV and HR contribute to an increased output, and it increases linearly with an increasing workload.

88. What happens to the end-expiratory lung volume during exercise in patients with COPD?
It increases

89. How often should intensity be increased in a pulmonary rehab program?
The intensity should be increased every 5th session.

90. What happens to the blood flow to the brain during intense exercise?
Absolute blood volume stays the same, but the percentage of blood flow to the brain decreases.

Final Thoughts

Cardiopulmonary rehabilitation is an essential facet of healthcare that offers demonstrable benefits in improving functional capacity and quality of life for patients with heart and lung conditions.

The multidisciplinary approach provides a holistic intervention, covering exercise, education, and emotional support.

Despite the challenges posed by limited accessibility and patient adherence, technological advances and telehealth solutions are widening its reach. =

As medical science continues to advance, the inclusion of evidence-based methods into cardiopulmonary rehabilitation will further its impact as a cost-effective strategy for chronic disease management and post-operative recovery.

John Landry, BS, RRT

Written by:

John Landry, BS, RRT

John Landry is a registered respiratory therapist from Memphis, TN, and has a bachelor's degree in kinesiology. He enjoys using evidence-based research to help others breathe easier and live a healthier life.


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