Background It is widely believed that cardiac rehabilitation following acute myocardial infarction (MI) reduces mortality by approximately 20%. This belief is based on systematic reviews and meta-analyses of mostly small trials undertaken many years ago. Clinical management has been transformed in the past 30–40 years and the findings of historical trials may have little relevance now.
Objectives The principal objective was to determine the effect of cardiac rehabilitation, as currently provided, on mortality, morbidity and health-related quality of life in patients following MI. The secondary objectives included seeking programmes that may be more effective and characteristics of patients who may benefit more.
Design, setting, patients, outcome measures A multi-centre randomised controlled trial in representative hospitals in England and Wales compared 1813 patients referred to comprehensive cardiac rehabilitation programmes or discharged to ‘usual care’ (without referral to rehabilitation). The primary outcome measure was all-cause mortality at 2 years. The secondary measures were morbidity, health service use, health-related quality of life, psychological general well-being and lifestyle cardiovascular risk factors at 1 year. Patient entry ran from 1997 to 2000, follow-up of secondary outcomes to 2001 and of vital status to 2006. A parallel study compared 331 patients in matched ‘elective’ rehabilitation and ‘elective’ usual care (without rehabilitation) hospitals.
Results There were no significant differences between patients referred to rehabilitation and controls in mortality at 2 years (RR 0.98, 95% CI 0.74 to 1.30) or after 7–9 years (0.99, 95% CI 0.85 to 1.15), cardiac events, seven of eight domains of the health-related quality of life scale (‘Short Form 36’, SF36) or the psychological general well-being scale. Rehabilitation patients reported slightly less physical activity. No differences between groups were reported in perceived overall quality of cardiac aftercare. Data from the ‘elective’ hospitals comparison concurred with these findings.
Conclusion In this trial, comprehensive rehabilitation following MI had no important effect on mortality, cardiac or psychological morbidity, risk factors, health-related quality of life or activity. This finding is consistent with systematic reviews of all trials reported since 1983. The value of cardiac rehabilitation as practised in the UK is open to question.
- clinical trials
- delivery of care
- public health
- cardiac rehabilitation
- syndrome X
- endothelial function
- basic science
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See Editorial, p 607
University of Wales College of Medicine has been renamed Cardiff University.
RAMIT Investigators, Cardiff University.
Funding This study was funded by the NHS Research and Development Programme (northern region) (RM19) and the Heart research fund for Wales.
Competing interests None.
Patient consent Obtained.
Ethics approval Ethics approval was provided by South Glamorgan, Oxford and Anglia Multi-centre Research Ethics Committee for all the participating centres.
Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.