New technique uses alcohol to save heart

Last Updated: Feb 01, 2011, 00:00 AM IST

New Delhi: Who says alcohol is always bad for health? Ask doctors and they will tell you how a few drops of alcohol can cure you of a rare genetic heart disorder through a technique that is fast replacing the conventional surgical method.

Alcohol septal ablation is the technique used to treat muscles hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) which causes abnormal muscle growth leading to obstruction of blood flow.

"In alcohol septal ablation, we use pure alcohol to burn a portion of the diseased heart muscle. The treatment eases the passage of blood through arteries or blood carriers," Praveen Chandra, chairman of interventional cardiology at Medanta Medicity, said.

The obstruction of blood flow causes breathlessness, stroke and other fatal problems.

"Wires and balloons are used to localise the septal artery feeding the diseased muscle. A small amount of absolute alcohol is infused into the artery to produce fumes, killing the area of heart muscle responsible for the obstruction, and eventually causing it to become less thick," Chandra explains.

The technique, which is over a decade old, is now gaining prominence due to its cost-effectiveness, minimal invasiveness and quick-healing abilities.

"The previously used way of surgery was cumbersome and lengthy. However, the ablation method is not only less invasive in nature but is also a safe way of chemically dissolving the diseased muscle in the surgery," said Atul Mathur, director of interventional cardiology at Fortis Escorts Heart Institute.

The septal ablation surgery costs around Rs.1 lakh, nearly half the cost of the conventional method.

"The disease is genetic in nature; so such a methodology proved to be a boon for medical care," said Mathur, who has treated nearly 100 HCM patients through the technique in the last five years.

The risks attached with the alcohol technique are considerably lower than the previous method. Also, patients are discharged within three to four days of the surgery.

Even the patients are a happy lot as the procedure is much simpler.

"Initially, I was petrified to know that it would take an open-heart surgery to reduce the size of the diseased artery in my heart. But alcohol ablation surgery relieved me of my pain within a week after the surgery," said Ambala-based Meenu Lamba who underwent the procedure in the capital in 2010.

Doctors advise echocardiography for diagnosing HCM in case symptoms like heartache, sudden pain, breathlessness and loss of consciousness are observed.

"People with a history of HCM in the family need to be cautious as the disease is likely to target anyone in the age group of 18-50 years," Chandra said.

The use of alcohol in medicine is not a new concept, believe experts.

"Alcohol is also used for burning cancerous cells of the liver. The technique is not very much in practice these days as we have advanced methods of treating cancers," said Padma Shri awardee K.K. Aggarwal, president of the Heart Care Foundation of India.

"Therapeutic use of alcohol is something that people need to be informed about cautiously. It should be noted that there is a difference between external use and therapeutic use of alcohol," quipped Aggarwal.

Chandra believes that the alcohol using technique should be popularised in the country.

"Septal ablation has been less in practice because HCM disease is rare. However, the hassle-free method needs to be popularised in the rural parts where the disease remains less reported," he said.

"We have been following up cases for more than five years after the surgery and have seen the difference. The technique has a long way to go," he added.

IANS