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Exercise-related cardiac arrest in cardiac rehabilitation - The Johannesburg experience

A.G. Digeno
J.G.M. Sim
R.J. Dowdeswell
R. Morris


Prescribed physical activity plays a major role in the rehabilitation of patients with coronary artery disease, and as with any other form of treatment its benefits must be weighed against its possible risks. This study attempted to establish the safety of cardiac rehabilitation as a medical intervention at the Johannesburg Cardiac Rehabilitation Centre from its inception in September 1982 to July 1988, and analyses the medical status of patients who suffered a cardiac arrest (CA) in order to determine possible factors predictive of sudden death. Between September 1982 and July 1988, 1574 patients were administed to the unit; 480000 man-hours of exercises were accumulated -with 4 episodes of CA, giving an incidence of CA of 1/120000 patient-hours. Three of the 4 episodes were fatal, giving an incidence of fatal CA of 1/160000 patient-hours. This incidence is acceptably low and comparable with other cardiac rehabilitation programmes, making exercise as prescribed at the Johannesburg Cardiac Rehabilitation Centre a safe form of medical intervention. Patients at risk of CA during exercise were essentially not identifiable, since they did not come from a group currently recognised as. at particularly high risk. A combination of inferior infarction with occluded dominant right coronary artery, good collateralisation and asymptomatic ischaemia was present in all CA patients. The likelihood of these pathological features being predidors of exercise-related sudden death requires further investigation.

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eISSN: 2078-5135
print ISSN: 0256-9574