Dennis Klein of Onalaska was born with a genetic heart condition and has long struggled with coronary artery disease. He had angioplasty, open heart surgery and other traditional treatments but was still plagued with chronic angina, or chest pain, for which we was taking nitroglycerin one or two times a day.
At just 57-years-old, Klein was running out of options.
Gundersen cardiologist Kevin Jaeger, MD, recommended that Klein try a noninvasive procedure called External Counter Pulsation (ECP). ECP may provide relief for people with chronic or intermittent angina.
When angina strikes, a person generally feels tightness in the chest that can spread to the shoulders, arms, neck and back. Symptoms also may include sweating, shortness of breath and dizziness. That’s because angina results from the heart muscle not getting enough blood and oxygen, usually due to narrowing of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. That’s why angina often strikes during physical activity when the heart pumps faster and the body needs more oxygen.
“After ECP treatments, most of our patients report a significant improvement in their ability to perform daily activities with little or no angina,” explains Mike Peeso, RN, who administers ECP at Gundersen. Such was the case for Klein. Even weeks after completing his ECP treatments, Klein says he has not needed to take nitroglycerin.
A candidate for External Counter Pulsationis usually someone like Klein who is optimized on medications and may have already had bypass surgery or angioplasty, and with few other options available. ECP treatments do not require incisions or anesthesia, and most patients find it relatively comfortable.
“It was a little uncomfortable at first—like driving down a bumpy road,” Klein confesses. “But after a while, it would feel good—like getting my legs massaged.”
Peeso explains, “During ECP treatments, compression cuffs inside special pants inflate and deflate in sequence up the patient’s legs to their waist in a wave-like motion. Each wave of pressure is timed to the patient’s heartbeats. The heart’s efficiency improves because the waves of compression are assisting the heart in pumping blood throughout the body.”
External Counter Pulsation has shown to improve circulation and heart function, and reduce chest pain so fewer medications are needed. It may also stimulate growth of new blood vessels around blocked arteries. The results are often life-changing benefits for patients who undergo a course of ECP therapy. Some patients may also notice other circulatory improvements. For example, Klein reports that it is now easier for him to walk and his feet are not as cold.
When receiving ECP treatments, patients must visit Gundersen for hour-long sessions, five days a week for seven weeks or more. Although the procedure is a major commitment, patients find it worth the effort if they gain relief for a year or more with each round of ECP.
“In most cases, ECP is very effective at controlling angina, increasing stamina and improving quality of life,” says Peeso.
Klein agrees, “I would do it again and would recommend it to others in my position. What’s more, the people at Gundersen were great—very outgoing and professional. I always felt I was in good hands.”
To learn more about ECP, talk with your cardiologist or call the Gundersen Cardiotesting Lab at (608) 775-4166 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 54166.