Medicine
Fact Checked

What Is a Cardiac Chair?

Kristen Douglas
Kristen Douglas

A cardiac chair is a type of medical device that is designed to help people recover more quickly from heart surgery and respiratory illnesses. In most cases it go from fully flat to fully upright with the push of a few buttons. The chair works a lot like a hospital bed in terms of quick adjustability, but it is usually able to do a lot more than simply recline or prop the patient — most models are made of several moving parts that form a true chair, supporting the patient’s back and buttocks as well as the arms and legs. Heart health experts often recommend this sort of device to people who are recovering from heart surgery. Sitting propped can help the healing process, and the mechanizations of the chair can prevent strain and injury, particularly for people who are already in a fragile or compromised state. Most chairs are in hospitals and are for use only during immediate recovery, though people with on-going conditions or long-term care needs can sometimes also rent or purchase one for use at home.

How it Works

Cardiac chairs improve the circulation and breathing of patients who are recovering from cardiac surgery.
Cardiac chairs improve the circulation and breathing of patients who are recovering from cardiac surgery.

The device is made to serve as a fully reclined bed at times, but can be adjusted to form what otherwise looks like a somewhat bulky but normal chair. Its main goal is to elevate the patient from the waist up without requiring the patient to move much, if at all. Medical experts usually agree that an upright, seated position provides more relief to the lungs and can improve circulation. As opposed to a hospital bed, the chair is usually easier to adjust; it also has several movable sections rather than a single mattress. Mattresses can often adjust a little bit, but they are typically intended more for basic reclining and propping than actual specialized support.

Cardiac patients are often urged to sit up within 24 hours of their procedure, as soon as they are conscious and off of ventilation support.
Cardiac patients are often urged to sit up within 24 hours of their procedure, as soon as they are conscious and off of ventilation support.

Many chairs are on wheels, which can help patients who are already in sitting positions to be moved to other hospital departments or rooms without having to move about, as would be required if transitioning from bed to wheelchair. These devices aren’t limited to people in cardiac centers, either. People who have respiratory illnesses can often benefit by being elevated into sitting positions and are sometimes put in these devices, as are people who are recovering from other major procedures or surgeries that involve healing in the chest or torso region.

Main Benefits of Chair Therapy

Standing up too quickly may lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, causing dizziness and even fainting.
Standing up too quickly may lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, causing dizziness and even fainting.

If a patient who has undergone cardiac surgery were to try to move from a flat position to a sitting position on a hospital bed, he or she would run the risk of straining the fresh sutures and could put undue pressure of the recovering heart. This movement is especially difficult for larger or weaker patients, even with medical staff assistance.

Sitting up too quickly after a surgical procedure can also cause dizziness and increase a patient's chance of falling. With a cardiac chair, the patient or staff can adjust the chair slowly into a sitting position from the waist up, and then adjust the lower part of the chair from the knee down. By doing this, the patient has no strain on his or her sutures, heart, or lungs, and can adjust to the altered position without dizziness.

Basics of Cardiac Recovery

Sitting up too quickly after a surgical procedure may cause dizziness.
Sitting up too quickly after a surgical procedure may cause dizziness.

The theoretical basis for having cardiac patients sit during recovery has been promoted in medical circles for decades. In the early 1940s, medical professionals discovered that patients who had undergone surgery or who had experienced cardiac arrest recovered more quickly and more fully if they became ambulatory sooner rather than later. Doctors began using chair therapy — namely, having patients move from bed to chair to sit for portions of the day — because patients in sitting positions had less strain in breathing and had improved circulation over those who were in laying down positions for their entire stay. By the early 1950s, short walks were also recommended. The cardiac chair has made it much easier for medical staff and patients to be able to sit and to get into position to stand.

Use at Home

The vast majority of these chairs are used in hospitals, particularly in cardiac wards. They tend to be very expensive, and the number of moving parts they require means that they often need more regular maintenance than other devices that are more simply constructed. It’s usually somewhat rare for people to have these chairs in their homes, though this may be recommended for people who have chronic heart of breathing conditions, particularly those who are elderly or particularly frail. The purchase price is often very high, but in many cases they can be rented from medical supply companies for a span of months or years.

Cardiac Chairs Vs. Bed Rest

It is critical to look at the popular alternative, the bed rest, to appreciate what a cardiac chair does.

It’s natural to assume that after having a cardiac episode, patients should rest all they want. However, bed rest can ultimately harm the individual more. Luckily, cardiac chairs can prevent this outcome. 

Research shows that prolonged immobility has negative consequences on a patient’s overall mental and physical well-being. Too much bed rest increases body fat, lessens the maximum amount of oxygen intake, hinders glucose tolerance, and elevates blood pressure

Not to mention, bed rest reduces calcium, a necessary mineral for bone health. Thus, bone density decreases, and muscles atrophy. Elderly patients need extra care because weakened bones increase the risk for injuries to the spine and hips.

Regarding effects on the gastrointestinal tract, bed-ridden patients often exhibit symptoms of constipation and malnutrition. Swallowing becomes more difficult since they are lying on their back, and their overall food intake lowers. Alternatively, the use of cardiac chairs could promote regular eating habits. 

Bed confinement also reduces the availability of dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine, essential neurotransmitters that regulate feelings of satisfaction and happiness. Patients on bed rest are more likely to develop depression and anxiety as a result. Sleep habits may also worsen, along with the patient’s memory. 

In part, bed-ridden patients feel depressed because they grapple with a loss of agency. Since they depend entirely on caregivers, they may internalize feelings of helplessness. Meanwhile, research proves that patients who use cardiac chairs are more hopeful and have more faith in their abilities to recover. 

The effects of bed rest can compound with those of natural aging, resulting in a worse outcome for the patient. Doctors recommend that patients move their bodies regularly and exercise as soon as they are able. After a hospital stay, a cardiac chair is a perfect way to encourage a patient to start moving again. 

Cardiac Chairs vs Electric Beds

Electric beds, which can move into a sitting position, are another alternative to cardiac chairs. These beds can seem more useful than cardiac chairs, but research indicates that cardiac chairs are superior in helping cardiac patients recover.

Patients appeared to have more oxygen and less carbon dioxide in their arteries after using cardiac chairs. Cardiac chairs also improved patients’ tidal flow or the amount of air a patient inhales in a breath. By comparison, patients who used electric beds instead to move into a sitting position did not see any physiological benefits. 

Increased blood oxygen levels are ideal for cardiac patients. With more oxygen in the blood, cells regenerate faster, immune systems strengthen, and energy levels rise. This encourages a faster recovery for cardiac patients. 

Artery narrowing and blockage is also a common symptom for cardiac patients. Plaque can block arteries to the point of allowing little oxygenated blood to pass through to the heart. This can result in a heart attack. In short, the more oxygen available to a patient, the better. 

How Cardiac Chairs Support Physical Therapy 

As patients undergo physical therapy to regain their mobility, cardiac chairs can be a major asset. A study involving a 34-year-old male cardiac patient details how this can look. 

The patient had suffered a heart attack. Once he began physical therapy, the doctors observed that the patient was unable to move from a lying-down to a sitting position without his body contorting involuntarily. The patient also had trouble sitting up straight. 

The physical therapy started with the patient moving to dangle off the side of the hospital bed. The next step was to move the patient from the hospital bed to a stretcher chair. With him in the chair, the doctors could better test his range of motion. 

The patient was now able to perform various physical therapy exercises, including tricep and quad stretches, and reaching tests. Additionally, he could participate in coordination exercises, such as throwing a ball. Sixteen days after starting physical therapy, the patient was discharged. 

In this example, it’s clear how cardiac chairs can quicken a cardiac patient’s recovery regarding their mobility. A cardiac chair allows a patient to participate in physical therapy exercises that would be more challenging, if not impossible, to perform in bed. 

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Discussion Comments

lovealot

My cousin's husband had bypass heart surgery a few years back. I think that he must have used a cardiac hospital chair when he was recuperating in the hospital. It's such a good idea. And to think that something that was put into use in the 1940s is still used today.

He uses a recliner chair to help him breathe more easily. He sleeps in an upright position on nights when he has trouble sleeping comfortably.

Clairdelune

Incredible! Something as simple as a comfortable chair that can bring so much comfort and make recovery quicker. It stands to reason that using a chair to sleep and rest in can ease the strain on breathing.

Compared to getting up from a bed and from a chair, there must be a lot less pain in the chest. I'm surprised they thought of this, way back in the 1940s. I wonder if they use these chairs for any other kinds of hospital patients?

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    • Cardiac chairs improve the circulation and breathing of patients who are recovering from cardiac surgery.
      By: spotmatikphoto
      Cardiac chairs improve the circulation and breathing of patients who are recovering from cardiac surgery.
    • Cardiac patients are often urged to sit up within 24 hours of their procedure, as soon as they are conscious and off of ventilation support.
      By: sudok1
      Cardiac patients are often urged to sit up within 24 hours of their procedure, as soon as they are conscious and off of ventilation support.
    • Standing up too quickly may lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, causing dizziness and even fainting.
      By: Wellford Tiller
      Standing up too quickly may lead to a sudden drop in blood pressure, causing dizziness and even fainting.
    • Sitting up too quickly after a surgical procedure may cause dizziness.
      By: Mauro Rodrigues
      Sitting up too quickly after a surgical procedure may cause dizziness.