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What is Alcohol Ablation?

Alcohol ablation is a minimally invasive procedure that uses ethanol to reduce abnormal tissue growth, often in the heart. By injecting alcohol into targeted areas, it causes controlled scarring, improving symptoms like arrhythmias. This technique offers a less invasive alternative to surgery, with shorter recovery times. Curious about how this procedure could change lives? Discover the transformative power of alcohol ablation in our full article.
Maggie J. Hall
Maggie J. Hall

Alcohol ablation, or alcohol septal ablation, generally refers to a medical procedure frequently used to treat hypertophic cardiomyopathy, whereby physicians inject alcohol into a specific area through a vein in order to shrink and destroy tissue. Cardiac specialists generally perform the procedure in a catheterization lab while the patient is mildly sedated. Physicians only perform the minimally invasive treatment based on certain patient criteria, which include patients who do not obtain symptomatic relief from medications.

Once taken to the catheterization lab, patients typically receive a mild sedative for relaxation. Physicians also use a local anesthetic at the inguinal crease insertion site, the area between the upper thigh and the lower abdomen. A cardiologist usually makes a small incision to gain access to the large vein located in this region. Through this vein, the physician threads a catheter, guidewire and balloon toward the heart. The physician also generally injects the vein with an anticoagulant medication.

Alcohol ablation is commonly used to treat hypertophic cardiomyopathy.
Alcohol ablation is commonly used to treat hypertophic cardiomyopathy.

Before performing the actual alcohol ablation, the physician might insert a temporary pacemaker into the heart in order to maintain a correct heart rhythm. After the catheter arrives at the left anterior, descending cardiac artery, the cardiologist typically inserts and inflates a miniature balloon, which walls off the location. Following balloon placement the cardiologist injects a media contrast dye, detectable by an echocardiograph. The media provides visualization of the area and the blood vessels along with ensuring proper catheter placement and ensuring the balloon does not allow backflow.

As heart tissue dies, the action may cause a mild heart attack.
As heart tissue dies, the action may cause a mild heart attack.

While monitoring the heart’s pumping action and rhythm, the cardiologist injects denatured ethanol, 1 milliliter at a time. The alcohol generally begins to destroy the enlarged tissue immediately, shrinking the biological tissue over a period of time. As the tissue dies, the action may cause a mild heart attack. The tissue destruction might also cause permanent heart block, as part of the tissue normally conducts the heart’s electrical impulses. In this instance, the physician will insert a permanent pacemaker.

Patients who undergo alcohol ablation will require hospitalization.
Patients who undergo alcohol ablation will require hospitalization.

In the event the arterial branches incur blockage, preventing catheterization, a cardiac surgeon might perform open-heart septal myectomy, involving actual tissue removal. Instead of performing alcohol ablation, a surgeon cuts away part of the enlarged septal wall to improve blood flow through and out of the heart.

Hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy occurs when the wall between the ventricles, or the septum, thickens and stiffens. This eventually prevents the heart from pumping effectively and depending on the severity of the thickening, may prevent normal blood flow. Physicians perform alcohol ablation as a means of minimizing the obstructive tissue and enhancing blood circulation. Patients scheduled to undergo alcohol ablation require hospitalization, not only for the procedure itself, but also for post treatment monitoring.

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    • Alcohol ablation is commonly used to treat hypertophic cardiomyopathy.
      By: peterjunaidy
      Alcohol ablation is commonly used to treat hypertophic cardiomyopathy.
    • As heart tissue dies, the action may cause a mild heart attack.
      By: Ljupco Smokovski
      As heart tissue dies, the action may cause a mild heart attack.
    • Patients who undergo alcohol ablation will require hospitalization.
      By: iceteastock
      Patients who undergo alcohol ablation will require hospitalization.
    • With alcohol ablation, physicians inject alcohol into a specific area through a vein in order to shrink and destroy tissue.
      By: fivepointsix
      With alcohol ablation, physicians inject alcohol into a specific area through a vein in order to shrink and destroy tissue.
    • Hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy occurs when the wall between the ventricles thickens and stiffens, affecting the heart's ability to pump.
      By: peterjunaidy
      Hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy occurs when the wall between the ventricles thickens and stiffens, affecting the heart's ability to pump.