Heart Too Buff? Have an Attack

Usually, heart doctors try to prevent and treat heart attacks. But now some cardiologists are actually causing heart attacks--in the name of science. (That's what I would have liked to have done to the cop who gave me a ticket yesterday while I was sitting in my car with the engine running at a red curb.) Back to the heart attack docs. Apparently, a few people out there, about one in 500, have over-achieving hearts. This is a genetic condition with a fancy name--hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy. It's where the muscle between the heart's two lower chambers is, like, way buff: that is, thick and strong. The muscle needs to chill a bit because it's getting in the way of the blood that needs to get out of the heart.

Now, when people with regular-size heart muscles have heart attacks, muscles usually become weaker and thinner. So one day a doctor in England reasons, hey, if that's what a heart attack does to a normal heart muscle, what would it do to a muscle that's too thick? Could a heart attack produced in a closely monitored setting actually work as a cure?

To knock this big muscle down to size, cardiologists working in a hospital cardiac laboratory inject pure alcohol into the artery that feeds it, causing a controlled heart attack. Currently, only 15 centers across the country offer the procedure, which has been performed on 150 patients to date.

Dr. Raj Makkar, associate director of cardiovascular intervention at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, who performs the experimental procedure, acknowledges: "The idea of causing a heart attack takes some getting used to." But once he injects the alcohol into the vessel and watches the muscle change before his eyes, he says, "It's like Absolut--as in the vodka--magic. He adds, however, that although the results look promising the procedure is still new and not for everyone with the condition.

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