What are the Benefits of ECP?
Clinical trials have confirmed the benefits of ECP treatment. About 80 to 90 percent of patients feel significantly better after completing a course of therapy. Patients typically report less frequent or severe chest pain, less use of nitroglycerin, less shortness of breath, improved energy, and a greater ability to resume the activities of daily life.
How does ECP work?
The ECP process resembles squeezing toothpaste up from the bottom of a tube.
The patient relaxes on the padded mattress of the ECP bed, and pneumatic cuffs (similar to blood-pressure cuffs) are applied to the patient’s calves, thighs, and buttocks. Hoses connect the cuffs to an air-pressure/vacuum pump. Electrodes are fastened to the patient’s chest so the computer console can monitor the heart rate. The pump rapidly inflates the cuffs in time with the patient’s heartbeat, which helps pump blood and increases oxygenation to the heart.
Over time, ECP therapy encourages restricted blood vessels to open small channels that become an alternative route, becoming “natural bypass” vessels to provide blood flow to the heart. This contributes to the relief of angina symptoms.
A course of therapy consists of 35 one-hour treatments (optimally, five days a week for seven weeks).Patients can read, sleep, or watch television while undergoing treatment, and can go right back to work after a session. By the end of the procedure, the patient’s face is flushed and his or her body feels warm, similar to post-workout in a gym. These effects disappear quickly. Patients tend to report improvement in their condition after as few as 10 to12 treatment sessions, although others require more sessions to get the full benefit.
What are the risks and/or side effects of ECP?
Fortunately, complications are rare and usually treatable. Patients may develop ulcers or blisters on the legs from the pressure of the cuffs, especially when patients have very fragile skin, or those who are on Coumadin, a blood thinner. This is usually treatable with extra padding of the cuffs in these areas.
Who qualifies for ECP Therapy?
ECP is not meant to replace bypass surgery or angioplasty, but is an alternative treatment for patients who, for reasons determined by their doctors, cannot benefit from these procedures.
Patients who are considered candidates for ECP treatment typically have angina symptoms that occur with minimal activity or stress, and this is considered Class 3 or 4 stable angina.
How much does ECP Therapy cost?
The entire course of treatment is much less expensive than the cost of invasive surgery with none of the risks. The procedure is covered by Medicare for the documented diagnosis of Class 3 or 4 angina.