EECP Saves Lives
Julian Whitaker, MD
Bob is a veteran of cardiovascular disease. Heart attacks, strokes, seizures, hypertension, heart failure, nine hospitalizations—you name it, he’s been there, done that. Bob tried everything his doctors recommended, including an angioplasty and more drugs than he could keep track of, but he continued to go downhill. Debilitating fatigue prevented him from walking up a flight of stairs without stopping halfway to catch his breath, let alone running his landscaping business.
So Bob and his wife Carol packed their bags and came to the Whitaker Wellness Institute’s Back to Health Program. The trip was hard on Bob, who had to be pushed through the airport in a wheelchair. But within days of beginning treatment, he was up and about, and by the second week, he was, as Carol put it, “bouncing off the walls.” His blood pressure fell from 156/101 to a normal 122/70. He lost 29 pounds (most of it fluid accumulation caused by a failing heart) and his ejection fraction, a marker of the heart’s pumping ability, went from 17 to 38. He left in great spirits, ready to get back to work.
Get Pumped Up With EECP
Like most of our patients, Bob underwent a number of treatments at the clinic, but he attributes the incredible turnaround in his symptoms to enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP). I’ve written about EECP before, but stories of patients like Bob—plus the results of several new studies—have inspired me to revisit this often-overlooked therapy.
First, let me explain how EECP works. You lie on a table and compression cuffs are strapped around your legs, from ankles to thighs. You’re also hooked up to a heart monitor. Once treatment begins, the cuffs sequentially inflate and deflate in sync with your heartbeat, and your legs are rapidly and rhythmically squeezed from bottom to top. Sounds simple, and it is. But let me tell you, this is powerful stuff.
It’s not surprising that EECP increases blood flow throughout the body during treatment—all that squeezing dramatically boosts circulation. Most remarkable, however, are EECP’s long-term benefits.
When patients with angina undergo a full course of 35 one-hour treatments, they often say goodbye to chest pain, angioplasty, and even bypass surgery. That’s what happened to Felix, whose physician told him the only solution for the severe chest pain that was shooting into his arm was immediate coronary artery bypass surgery. Felix had a friend who had gone through the trauma of bypass and ended up with even more problems than he started with, and he wanted none of that. So he researched his options on the Internet, came to the clinic for a course of EECP, and within a week, his chest pain had vanished. He never did have that “urgent” operation.
Staves Off Heart Attacks and Deaths…
EECP does more than improve symptoms of serious heart disease. It also saves lives, according to a study presented at a recent American College of Cardiology meeting. Researchers from Stony Brook University in New York evaluated the records of 4,597 patients with end-stage heart disease who had undergone EECP. Now, these were sick people. Nine out of 10 had already had angioplasty or bypass surgery, and seven out of 10 had suffered heart attacks.
The researchers studied the outcomes of the patients who had finished their entire course of 35 EECP treatments and compared them with a control group of patients who had dropped out after an average of 13 treatments. (This was about 14 percent of the total.) The differences were striking. One year after treatment, 25 percent of the “noncompleters” had improvements in angina, 7.7 percent had had heart attacks, and 14.1 percent had died. Among the patients who completed an entire EECP course, 85 percent reported less angina, 4.1 percent had heart attacks, and only 4.1 percent died.
…And Improves Heart Function
Another condition that benefits from EECP is heart failure. Heart failure is a progressive weakening of the heart muscle. Whether it’s caused by a heart attack, virus, hypertension, or toxins, the heart eventually loses its ability to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Fluid collects in the legs, breathing becomes labored, and energy goes down the drain. Patients with this condition have a poor prognosis—fewer than half are still alive five years after diagnosis.
An excellent noninvasive test for evaluating heart function is the echocardiogram, which uses sound waves to visualize the heart’s chambers, valves, overall size, and movement. One piece of info gleaned from an echocardiogram is ejection fraction (EF), a measure of the percentage of blood volume pumped out with each beat of the heart. A robust heart muscle ejects about half of its volume as it contracts, so a normal EF is 50 to 60 percent.
In a recent study, researchers evaluated the echocardiograms of 505 patients with heart disease performed before they started a 35-hour course of EECP and again within a week after completing treatment. The patients with the poorest EF before treatment—less than 35 percent—had the greatest improvements. Their EFs increased from an average pre-treatment score of 29 percent to as high as 45 percent post-therapy. Patients who had better initial heart function also saw improvements, going from a mean EF of 48 percent to 56 percent.
Serendipitous Benefits of EECP
Most of the 100-plus studies on EECP have demonstrated its effectiveness as a treatment for cardiovascular disease. However, we’ve seen so many unexpected benefits that we use it at the clinic for a number of other conditions. These include Parkinson’s disease, age-related memory loss, erectile dysfunction, neuropathy, and some forms of kidney disease.
How can one therapy produce such broad and enduring benefits? Because all of these conditions have one thing in common: poor circulation. EECP increases levels of nitric oxide, a signaling molecule that dilates the arteries and revitalizes the endothelial cells lining the blood vessels. It also mobilizes endothelial stem cells from the bone marrow, which helps the body build new blood vessels. And once blood flow is normalized, healing begins.
If you are dealing with any of the conditions discussed in this article and you’ve resigned yourself to a lifetime of drugs or worse, do yourself a favor and check out EECP.
- To learn more about receiving EECP and other noninvasive treatments for heart disease at the Whitaker Wellness Institute, contact a Patient Services Representative at (866) 944-8253 or click here.
- Heal Your Heart With EECP by Debra Braverman, MD, is a great read. It’s available in bookstores, online, or by calling (800) 810-6655.
- Jancin B. External counterpulsation reduces mortality. Internal Medicine News. 2008 May 15;41(10):30.
Modified from Health & Healing with permission from Healthy Directions, LLC. Copyright 2008. Photocopying, reproduction, or quotation strictly prohibited without written permission from the publisher. To subscribe to Health & Healing, click here.