What Is EECP, and Is It a Good Treatment Option for Angina?

EECP (enhanced external counterpulsation) is a noninvasive treatment that improves the flow of healthy, oxygenated blood to the heart by opening or forming small (collateral) blood vessels, which can create natural bypasses around narrowed or blocked arteries. It’s becoming more popular as an alternative to bypass surgery, angioplasty, and stents. Although it used to be difficult to find this treatment, it’s now performed at more than 600 locations around the country, including the Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins, and the Cleveland Clinic.

EECP is most often recommended to:

  • Reduce or eliminate angina.
  • Increase energy and stamina.
  • Return patients to a higher level of activity and exertion.

EECP is an outpatient procedure. However, it requires a significant time commitment: Each treatment is 60 minutes long, and you come in for 35 treatments in total — usually five days a week for seven weeks.

Patients lie on a special bed with a series of blood pressure cuffs wrapped around the lower and upper legs. An EKG triggers the cuffs to inflate and deflate in sync with your own heartbeat, pumping healthy blood throughout your body and taking a load off your heart.

During the heart’s resting phase, when it normally receives its supply of blood, the cuffs inflate, pushing oxygen-rich blood toward your heart. Just before your heart begins to pump again, the cuffs rapidly deflate and blood leaves your heart without the muscle having to work as hard.

Many people with angina or coronary artery disease can benefit from EECP, but it’s particularly well suited for people who:

  • Have already had angioplasty, stents, or bypass surgery, but their heart disease symptoms returned or persisted.
  • Aren’t candidates for surgery due to other medical conditions.
  • Don’t want to have surgery.
  • Are diabetic.
  • Have small blood vessels (often women).
  • Rely on medications, or curtail their activities to avoid angina symptoms.

EECP is FDA-approved and covered by Medicare and most private insurers.