Southampton heart experts blast kidneys to lower blood pressure

Heart experts at Southampton’s teaching hospitals are using a groundbreaking drug-free treatment which involves ‘blasting’ nerves in the kidneys with radio waves to reduce high blood pressure.

The technique, called renal denervation (RDN), is performed in around 45 minutes under local anaesthetic and is the first alternative treatment for patients who have been unable to control the condition using conventional medication.

Around 30% of people in England suffer from high blood pressure – known as hypertension – which causes the body to pump blood too forcefully through the arteries and heart.

Complications of untreated hypertension can cause organ damage, including heart attacks, stroke or kidney disease, and lead to premature death.

After guiding a device into the arteries of the kidneys through the groin using X-ray images, doctors deliver high frequency signals to burn off overactive nerves, increasing blood flow to the organs and reducing levels of a hormone linked to high blood pressure.

“This treatment really is a milestone in the field as, for the first time, we are able to say to people who cannot control their blood pressure with medication now have an option to limit their risk of stroke or heart disease,” said Dr James Wilkinson, a consultant cardiologist at Southampton General Hospital.

“The device allows us to gain access to the kidneys and fire short bursts of radio waves to burn overactive nerves, meaning we can bring blood pressure down to normal levels in most patients.”

Dr Wilkinson and Dr Allan Odurny, a consultant radiologist, performed the first two procedures together at Southampton General Hospital yesterday (Thursday), with three more cases due over the next month.

Latest research into RDN, which is currently being trialled at a number of UK centres as part of an international study led by the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Australia, published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, shows it is safe and effective in lowering blood pressure up to one year after with no lasting harm to the kidneys or heart.

Posted on Friday 15 February 2013