Reversing the Progression of Heart Disease

Wen-Chih Wu, M.D.

For people diagnosed with coronary heart disease, a new program has been shown to stop the progression of the disease, and even reverse it. This intensive program is known as the Dean Ornish Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.

It’s the only lifestyle change program proven in randomized controlled clinical trials to reverse the progression of coronary heart disease.

What is coronary heart disease?

Coronary heart disease occurs when plaque, a waxy substance, builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This can narrow the arteries, making it more difficult for the heart to get much needed oxygen and blood. The resulting blockage can cause blood clots, heart attack, or stroke.

What makes this program different?

Traditional cardiac rehabilitation programs are typically 36 hours of training, focused mainly on exercise, with some education on lifestyle factors that can improve health.

The Dean Ornish Cardiac Rehabilitation Program has a total of 72 hours of rehabilitation. The program is designed to focus on each aspect of improving your heart health. Classes meet twice weekly for nine weeks, with four hours in each session. To help accommodate patients who work standard business hours, classes are offered in mornings, afternoons, and evenings.

Each four-hour session dedicates one hour to each of the four lifestyle aspects of improved heart health:

  1. Nutrition: learning to maintain a whole-foods, plant-based diet. Attendees even enjoy a plant-based meal during the session. 
  2. Activity: supervised exercise training.
  3. Stress management: learn techniques to lower stress in your life, such as yoga and meditation.
  4. Emotional support: guided group sessions of peer support.

Education plays a key role in the program. Medical professionals, including registered nurses, exercise physiologists, social workers and behavioral therapists, registered nutritionists, and a stress management specialist all work together. This approach helps patients improve their heart health by focusing on the various areas that need to be addressed.

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Are you at risk for heart disease?

Some heart disease risk factors can't be controlled. Some can.

Who can be referred for the program?

A referral from a physician is needed. Patients who have had a heart attack within the last 12 months, have had a heart valve repair and/or replacement, cardiac bypass surgery, a heart transplant, coronary stent placement, or stable angina may benefit from the program.

Almost 90 percent of participants are still following the lifestyle changes one year later. By contrast, only 30 to 50 percent of those prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs are still taking them after only six months. For many, committing to a plant-based diet is key for success.

The benefits

The program has been shown to improve health and reduce cardiac risk in patients with cardiac disease by:

  • Lowering LDL cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar. 
  • Decreasing the frequency and severity of angina.
  • Reducing body weight.
  • Decreasing depression. 
  • Reducing cardiac hospitalizations, heart attacks, emergency room visits, angioplasties, or bypass surgery.
  • Decreasing the number of medications taken for heart disease. 
  • Helping to improve other health conditions, such as diabetes.

The Lifespan Cardiovascular Institute is the first in New England to offer the Dean Ornish Cardiac Rehabilitation Program.

For more information on how the program can help you, call us at 401-793-5810 or visit our website.

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