Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in North America among men and women. Naturopathic medicine can be beneficial in both prevention of heart attacks and improving recovery after a cardiovascular injury. A heart attack occurs when there is a sudden and complete block of one of the cardiac arteries. Lack of blood flow to the heart muscle causes tissue death. If this blockage cannot be reversed within minutes, there is likely to be permanent damage to the heart tissue, which can lead to loss of function of the heart that cannot be repaired. Heart attack prevention begins with the promotion of healthy blood flow to and from the heart. Blood flow is critical to overall cardiovascular health. When there is a large blockage, this is often achieved through surgeries to remove plaques or areas of build-up.
Enhanced External Counter Pulsation (EECP) is one of the main therapies used by our naturopaths when treating cardiovascular disease. EECP is a non-invasive therapy used to improve overall cardiovascular health and for multiple conditions including heart attack prevention. This therapy is administered via external compression and relaxation of the legs to promote blood flow back to the heart. There are three external cuffs tightly wrapped around the patient’s calves, thighs and waist. The external cuffs compress in relation to the heart beat which is monitored by an ECG. The cuffs compress when the heart is relaxed to allow for optimal blood flow through the cardiac arteries. EECP compression allows for blood flow to bypass areas of congestion by recruiting collateral arteries – arteries near or around ones of congestion. The deflation of the cuffs promotes blood flow to the extremities.
Heart attack prevention requires a system-wide approach to treatment. EECP increases blood flow to the heart, and the body responds to this by recruiting collateral coronary arteries, which are like side roads in the cardiovascular road network. This creates different ways for blood to reach the heart. The increase in pathways for blood flow to the heart’s muscle reduce the risk of a heart attack because if a blockage occurred in one, the blood has another pathway to get to the heart. When the heart relaxes between beats – known as diastole – the external cuffs compress to promote blood flow back to the heart. This blood flow first goes to the lungs to be oxygenated and then brings fresh oxygen to the heart and rest of the body. Just before the heart contracts again, the external cuffs relax allowing for blood to leave the heart, decreasing the overall pressure on the heart and allowing for the heart to pump blood with greater force. Overall, EECP helps to increase oxygen and blood flow the heart, while decreasing its overall workload. EECP treatment promotes blood flow which prevents the risk of a heart attack and improves overall cardiovascular health.