Alcohol Septal Ablation

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A Minimally Invasive Way of Treating Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy

For years, patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy that didn’t respond to oral medications were treated with open-heart surgery.  With alcohol septal ablation, available through The Heart Center at Northeast Georgia Medical Center (NGMC) as part of comprehensive care for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, there’s now a less invasive option.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is a common genetic condition that causes cells in the heart muscle to enlarge and the ventricle walls to thicken.  The thickening can result in a number of problems for patients due to both electrical and mechanical dysfunction.

“Patients with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy develop shortness of breath or chest pain, and they may pass out due to diminished blood flow and increased heart strain,” says Chris Leach, MD, FACC, FSCAI, interventional cardiologist at The Heart Center of NGMC.  “They’re also at an increased risk of sudden death due to dangerous arrhythmias, a disruption of the heart’s natural rhythms.”

Who’s at Risk?

People of all ages, genders and ethnic backgrounds can develop hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.  In fact, the condition affects approximately one in 500 Americans — up to 1.5 million people.

HCM is usually inherited, and it’s caused by a mutation in a gene for one of several proteins in the heart muscle cells.

The severity of the condition varies from person to person.  Some people who have HCM experience few or no symptoms.  For others, the symptoms are life-threatening and limit their quality of life.

Surveying the Treatment Options

When HCM is suspected, patients typically undergo cardiovascular screenings such as electrocardiogram (EKG) or echocardiogram (ECHO).  Once a diagnosis is made, medications are typically the first-line treatment.

“The mainstay of care is still medications to reduce the work of the heart, decrease oxygen demand and improve the efficiency of the heart’s pumping,” Dr.  Leach says.  “For patients who continue having limiting symptoms despite medication therapy, there’s the myomectomy surgery, which is an open-heart surgery where the thickened heart tissue is shaved away to try and reshape the chamber to improve pumping efficiency.”

Because of the complex and invasive nature of open-heart surgery, though, myomectomy isn’t an option for some patients.  Previously for older patients or those with other health problems, treatment options for these patients has been limited.

“The alcohol septum ablation allows us to treat patients who may be at increased risk for open surgery,” Dr.  Leach says.  “During the procedure, a small area of the heart tissue is destroyed by injecting a controlled amount of pure alcohol into a branch vessel in the heart.  The tissue then shrinks and alleviates the obstruction to improve blood flow out of the heart.”

“This procedure offers an option that can be performed in a cardiac catheterization lab through a small IV rather than an open-heart procedure.  It significantly improves the symptoms of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and patients’ quality of life.”

Since the procedure is minimally invasive, overall recovery time for the procedure is also shorter than that of a myomectomy.


  • Christopher R. Leach, MD, FACC, FSCAI

Who’s a Candidate?

“The procedure is geared toward patients who have a marked thickening of a particular portion of the myocardial wall that results in obstructed blood flow out of the heart,” Dr.  Leach says.  “These patients will also experience symptoms that limit their quality of life even after maximum tolerated medical therapy.”

Despite the benefits of alcohol septal ablation, the procedure isn’t appropriate for all patients with HCM.  

“This procedure offers another layer of treatment with a minimally-invasive approach,” Dr.  Leach says.  “Patients should talk with a specialized cardiologist to address what type of treatment is best for their specific needs.”

To request an appointment with a cardiologist at The Heart Center of NGMC, call (770) 534-2020 or visit

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