To learn more, talk with your cardiologist or call Gundersen Lutheran at (608) 775-4166 or (800) 362-9567, ext. 54166.
During external counter pulsation (ECP) treatments, patients wear specially designed pants that have built-in air chambers which can be rapidly inflated and deflated, timed by the electrocardiogram and computer activated. ECP had been very effective at controlling angina and improving quality of life.
You’re doing yard work when you start to feel tightness in your chest. You start to sweat and find it difficult to catch your breath. The pain in your chest spreads to your shoulders, arms, neck and back. It has happened before...in fact, all too often. You may be suffering from chronic, life-limiting angina.
A noninvasive procedure at Gundersen Lutheran called External Counter Pulsation (ECP) may offer relief. Patients who have had the procedure report a significant improvement in their ability to perform daily activities with little or no angina.
Angina occurs when heart muscles don’t get enough blood and oxygen to maintain proper pumping action, usually due to blockages in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Angina is most evident during physical activity when the heart pumps faster and needs more oxygen.
A candidate for ECP has chronic angina, has gotten all the benefit he can from available medications and is unable to be treated with bypass surgery or angioplasty. In most cases ECP is very effective at controlling angina and improving a patient’s quality of life.
To receive ECP treatments, patients must visit the Gundersen Lutheran Heart Institute for 35 one-hour sessions, five days each week for seven consecutive weeks. ECP treatments are done as an outpatient procedure, do not require incisions or anesthesia, and most patients find it relatively comfortable.
Although the procedure is a big time commitment, patients report that it is worth it. Many patients who had trouble walking from room to room are now doing activities like yard work and chopping wood. Many of them have chest pain only once a month or once every few months. In some cases, the patients are completely angina free.
During ECP treatments, compression cuffs inside special pants inflate and deflate in sequence around the patient’s calves, thighs and buttocks in a wave-like motion. Using an electrocardiogram and computer, each wave of pressure is timed to the patient’s heartbeats.
When the heart contracts, the pants rapidly deflate drawing blood out of the heart. The heart’s efficiency improves because it doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood to your body. Then, when the heart relaxes the air chambers inflate, increasing blood flow to the heart muscle. Most patients have no trouble tolerating the procedure.
The benefits of ECP are many, including:
- Improved cardiac function due to enhanced blood flow to the heart and coronary arteries, and reduced workload on the heart muscle.
- Stimulating the growth of new blood vessels around blocked arteries and improved function of existing blood vessels.
- Reduced frequency and intensity of chest pain, thus reducing the need for angina medications.
- Improved capacity for exercise and daily activities.
- Improved quality of life.
For best results, it’s critical for patients to follow a healthy, active lifestyle and regular, consistent exercise after the ECP treatments are completed. Please talk to your healthcare provider for more information.