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Published on February 16, 2016

Alcohol injection can improve blood flow from the heart

A new technique that uses alcohol to reduce thickening of the heart muscle is helping patients who seek treatment for a specific genetic disorder.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is characterized by an abnormal thickening of a part of the heart muscle, which can interfere with the flow of blood.

While it doesn’t bother everyone who has it, some people with the condition may experience labile blood pressure, fainting, an inability to exercise and even life-threatening arrhythmias.

HCM is considered a major cause of sudden death in children and adolescents.

Enter alcohol septal ablation, a minimally invasive procedure now available at UHS Wilson Medical Center.

It’s a therapeutic technique that reduces the amount of muscle tissue blocking the blood flow.

“Accessing the heart through a catheter, we inject pure ethanol directly into the tissue in the precise area where it is abnormally thick,” said Alon Yarkoni, MD, FACC, the fellowship-trained interventional cardiologist who leads the UHS Structural Heart and Valve Center at UHS Wilson. “As a result, the thickened area becomes thin and atrophies. It’s replaced by scar tissue and more space is created for blood to flow out of the heart.”

The targeted area is called the septal branch of the left anterior descending coronary artery, and use of the alcohol ablation method requires a great deal of clinical skill to achieve the desired results.

But those results can be very beneficial to the patient.

“This is a delicate procedure, because we’re working in a very small area, in a little branch artery,” Dr. Yarkoni said. “But it has become a viable alternative for patients who might not be suitable for traditional surgery.”

For example, it’s often the best choice for an elderly or frail patient for whom conventional surgery would be high-risk.

Ablation is another example of the advanced forms of interventional cardiology available at the Structural Heart and Valve Center, and of UHS’ leadership in using techniques normally found only at large metropolitan hospitals.