A new treatment for heart disease is allowing patients to get the exercise they need to improve their cardiovascular health even while they sleep, watch TV, talk or listen to music.
Called “EECP® therapy,” the painless procedure has the patient lie down on a comfortable padded table while three sets of inflatable cuffs, similar to blood pressure cuffs, are wrapped around their calves, thighs and buttocks. Triggered by the patient’s own heart beat, the cuffs are inflated with air during the heart’s resting phase, gently squeezing the lower body and pumping extra blood throughout the body, especially to the heart and coronary arteries.
“By enhancing blood flow when the heart is at rest, EECP provides even more benefits than exercise, stimulating blood vessels throughout the body so they grow, become stronger, and become better able to deliver more blood, oxygen and nutrients to the body’s cells and organs,” says Dr. Ozlem Soran, associate professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, and one of the world’s foremost experts on EECP therapy.
Dr. Soran says the FDA-cleared therapy is good news for the millions of heart disease sufferers who are so physically limited by their heart disease symptoms they cannot engage in even the most basic physical activities, such as walking or climbing steps.
“EECP therapy gives millions of patients suffering from angina and heart failure the benefit of vigorous exercise despite the patient’s limitations; it is exercise for those who cannot exercise,” Dr. Soran says.
Dr. Soran says patients who don’t feel like napping can read, listen to music, or chat with other patients during the non-invasive treatment, which is delivered on an outpatient basis in a series of daily one-hour sessions.
“The additional blood flow through the arteries stimulates the cells which line the arteries, improving their health and actually reversing arterial inflammation and the hardening of the arteries often associated with cardiovascular disease,” Dr. Soran says.
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. It kills 2,200 Americans every 24 hours and costs the nation more than $444 billion in medical expenses and lost productivity annually.
Dr. Soran says EECP therapy’s safety and effectiveness has been documented in more than 160 publications and peer-reviewed medical society journals, showing 75 to 80 percent of patients who receive the therapy obtain relief of symptoms associated with heart and circulatory problems for up to five years. Some physicians familiar with EECP therapy say it could eventually replace some of the drugs and invasive surgical procedures currently used to treat cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Soran says EECP therapy is typically prescribed by cardiologists whose patients have already undergone prior invasive procedures, like stenting and coronary bypass, but still suffer from chest pains and other angina equivalent symptoms (fatigue and shortness of breath) which are also the related symptoms experienced by heart-failure patients.
“EECP therapy can relieve pain and return mobility to patients who are ineligible or not good candidates to receive invasive procedures, but we investigators believe EECP therapy can be an effective first option for millions suffering from certain/selected types of coronary artery disease prior to any other interventional procedures,” Dr. Soran says.
EECP therapy is covered by Medicare and most private insurers.
About the Author
Dr. Ozlem Soran, MD, is an associate professor of medicine and associate professor of epidemiology research and director of the EECP lab at the University of Pittsburgh’s Heart and Vascular Unit. A Fellow of the European Society of Cardiology and of the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Soran is one of the world’s leading authors in the field of Enhanced External Counterpulsation, and has published more than 75 peer-reviewed articles and studies on EECP Therapy.