Medical Minute: Less invasive alternative treatment for heart patients

By Peter Alagona Jr.

Bypass surgery and balloon angioplasty are two familiar treatments for people with angina and heart failure. Although, in cases where a patient does not experience chest pain relief from these treatments or a patient is not able to tolerate these invasive treatments, an alternative, less invasive procedure is available.

Enhanced external counter pulsation (EECP®) is an outpatient treatment to help reduce symptoms due to insufficient blood supply to the heart muscle, caused by a narrowing of, or blockages in, the coronary arteries. The reduced blood supply to the heart muscle can cause symptoms such as angina or chest discomfort, shortness of breath, fatigue and decreased ability to exercise and engage in activities of daily living.

During a course of EECP® treatment, three sets of blood pressure-like cuffs are wrapped around each of the legs — one on the calf, one on the lower thigh, and one on the upper thigh. Each of these cuffs inflate and deflate at specific times during a patient’s heartbeat. During the inflations, the legs are squeezed, thus increasing blood flow and oxygen to the heart and other organs. This increased blood flow along with a number of other beneficial effects often reduces or eliminates symptoms and may decrease the need for medications in some patients.

The full course of EECP® therapy requires patients to receive hour-long treatments daily for seven weeks. Research has shown that 75 to 80 percent of patients who complete the full course of therapy experience prompt and significant reduction in their symptoms and have indicated an improvement in their activity levels. In fact, one patient who recently completed a full course of therapy reported dancing for the first time in 10 years without any shortness of breath.

Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute offers this therapy at the Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute clinic at Penn State Hershey Medical Group, Nyes Road, Harrisburg, Pa. For more information or to speak with the EECP® therapist, call 717-703-3649.

Peter Alagona Jr. is an associate professor of medicine, Penn State College of Medicine, and program director of general cardiology, Penn State Hershey Heart and Vascular Institute.

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Last Updated February 23, 2011