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Treating chronic chest pain with new device

January 2, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
It's a scary pain in the chest that 9 million Americans live with every day. Angina is treatable, but most of the time patients have to take medication for the rest of their lives to control it. A simple therapy is helping patients kick it for good.

Microvascular angina (MVA) is an early form of coronary heart disease that occurs when arteries narrow and the heart doesn't get enough oxygen-rich blood.

Cardiologist Dr. Ken Kronhaus says people with it have few options.

"The vessels are too tiny to put a stent in. The medications work much less than half the time," said Kronhaus.

To treat MVA, he's using a noninvasive treatment for heart patients recently cleared by the FDA: enhanced external counterpulsation (EECP).

"It milks the blood in the arteries and veins in the legs and increases the blood flow back to the heart," said Kronhaus.

For seven weeks, patients lie on a specialized bed for 35 one-hour sessions. Blood-pressure cuffs inflated with air are wrapped around each leg. They contract and expand with each heartbeat, helping develop better circulation.

"Without any needles, cutting or added medication," said Kronhaus

According to the Mayo Clinic, it's been proven to work in 75 to 80 percent of microvascular angina patients.

Kronhaus says the therapy could one day replace lifelong heart drugs.

Kronhaus says MVA is most commonly seen in women who are transitioning to menopause.

But it can also affect men. The EECP treatment can cost up to $6,000. It's usually covered by insurance.