Montreal researchers test non-invasive angina treatment
By Marlene Leung, CTVNews.ca
Published Wednesday, June 25, 2014 7:20AM EDT
A group of Montreal researchers is testing a new way to treat blocked heart vessels, in the hopes of making the treatment more common in Canada.
Thousands of Canadians suffer from untreatable angina, a medical condition where the patient feels chest pains due to blocked arteries in the heart. Patients with severe angina can feel pain in their chests and can become winded from simple activities such as walking or going about their daily routines.
Treatment for angina can include medication, angioplasty and heart surgery, but there are some patients for whom those treatments don't work.
Now, a group of researchers in Montreal is using a therapy called "enhanced external counterpulsation" (EECP) on patients with untreatable angina and it's showing promising results.
EECP is a non-invasive treatment that involves wrapping large cuffs around the patients' legs. The cuffs, which resemble blood pressure cuffs, inflate and deflate at specific times between the patient's heartbeats, forcing more blood to the heart.
In guidelines published in the October 2013 edition of the European Heart Journal, researchers said EECP should be considered a treatment to help relieve symptoms for patients with angina.
Dr. Marc Jolicoeur, from the Montreal Heart Institute, said there is a need for new angina treatments. "We need new options and EECP is one of those options," he told CTV News.
He received funding from a private foundation to help start a Canadian study on EECP, and offers free sessions to patients who participate.
While the therapy has been used for several years in the U.S., where it is considered standard treatment, it isn't as common in Canada. Patients in Canada can still get the treatment in private clinics for a fee.
One of the study participants is Larry Smith, who has suffered from severe angina for more than 10 years. He said his symptoms are so bad he can't even do simple activities.
"I had to stop working and just concentrate on not walking too far, not even tying my shoes at times," he said. He said sometimes his chest pains are so bad that it wakes him up at night.
Smith has been going to Pierre Boucher hospital in Longueuil five days a week to get EECP treatment. He said the procedure doesn't hurt and is not too uncomfortable.
"You have to imagine it's as if someone is taking your blood pressure. It's the same tightness as on your arms, only it's on your legs," he said.
Smith said he's noticed a big difference in the quality of his life since he started treatment. "Now I'm able to walk up some stairs which I've never done for the last several years," he said.
Jolicoeur said it's not unusual for angina patients to see positive results.
"Being able to walk more, exercise some and enjoy life more… so, it's significantly working for the majority of the patients that are being treated," he said, adding that he believes EECP should be made available to a wider population.
Dr. Gregory Barsness, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., has been treating patients with EECP for over a decade.
"It provides durable effectiveness in treating these patients, so it really is an underutilized but appropriate therapy," he said.
Jolicoeur will present the results of his study at a cardiovascular conference this fall.
With a report from CTV News' medical specialist Avis Favaro and producer Elizabeth St. Philip