External cardiac counterpulsation is a non-invasive outpatient technique performed to decrease chest pain (angina pectoris) by increasing oxygen-rich blood flow to the heart. The external counterpulsation system inflates and deflates pressure cuffs on the legs, moving the blood from the lower limbs toward the heart. This process enhances blood flow through the coronary arteries. By increasing the amount of oxygen-rich blood flowing through the coronary artery, new vessels (collateral circulation) form around the blockages, creating a natural bypass.
External cardiac counterpulsation is supervised by nurses with extensive cardiovascular experience, certified in Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and performed by trained ECP technologists.
You may be a candidate for External Counterpulsation if you:
- Have chronic stable angina.
- Use Nitroglycerin regularly.
- Do not qualify as a candidate for invasive procedures.
- Have exhausted invasive treatments without lasting relief of symptoms.
- Are unwilling to undergo surgery or angioplasty.
- Want to explore alternatives to bypass surgery or angioplasty.
The External Counterpulsation procedure occurs while the heart is resting, and is performed on a padded table for comfort. Air is inflated into a series of cuffs placed on the calves, thighs and buttocks. The external counterpulsation system compresses your lower extremities in a wave-like sequence which increases blood flow back toward your heart. The inflation of these cuffs is synchronized to your heartbeat so the blood arrives at precisely the time the heart relaxes. A fraction of a second before your heart beats again, the cuffs are deflated, enabling the blood in your heart to be pumped into your empty blood vessels. This decreases the amount of work your heart is performing.
The treatment course consists of 35 one-hour treatment sessions which take place over a seven-week period. The treatment is painless and feels like a vigorous massage.
Benefits of External Counterpulsation
Depending upon the individual, External Counterpulsation can have several benefits. Although each experience is unique, individuals usually see some improvement within three to four weeks. You may experience:
- Decreased chest pain
- Reduced need for medication
- Improved energy and mobility
- The ability to return to exercising
There are no known adverse effects as a result of receiving External Counterpulsation treatment.