London: Doctors have said that a one-hour operation that could halve the risk of heart attacks in patients with high blood pressure could be available from next year. In trails patients undergoing the keyhole procedure saw their blood pressure drop by a fifth within six months — enough to halve the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

A follow-up after 18-months showed no reversal of the condition. The trials proved so successful that some clinics have already made it available privately, and researchers expect the treatment to be made available to tens of thousands of British patients on the NHS.

The procedure severed the nerves, which connect the kidneys to the brain and carry signals to control blood pressure.

Doctors say the operation, which costs just 6,000 pounds, could offer a lasting solution for tens of thousands of British patients whose high blood pressure cannot be controlled by conventional drugs. Although people who undergo the procedure still have to take medication to keep their condition in check, it brings about a drop in blood pressure, which drugs alone have failed to provide.

Further trials will establish whether the technique, known as renal denervation, could also help patients whose bodies will not tolerate conventional blood pressure drugs.

In a study, which involved more than 100 patients across 11 countries, researchers found that the 20 per cent reduction in patients' blood pressure was still maintained a year and a half after the procedure, with no major side effects reported.

"We are encouraged to see that renal denervation shows substantial and sustained blood pressure reduction in treatment resistant patients," a daily quoted Dr Murray Esler of Saarland University Hospital in Germany as saying.

"We know the renal nerves play a crucial role in blood pressure elevation and this study shows those nerves can be targeted with renal denervation without major side effects," Dr Esler added.

The new procedure, first trialled at Barts and the London NHS trust in 2009, involves severing malfunctioning nerves around the kidneys.

The nerves send signals to the brain that tell it that blood pressure is too low, causing the brain to increase it to dangerously high levels.

Doctors correct the fault by threading a wire through the renal artery until it reaches the kidneys, where it lets off a burst of heat to burn the nerves and disable them.

Although the operation is moderately painful, it does not require a general anaesthetic and patients can generally leave hospital on the same day.

Charities have so far funded a small number of procedures for patients in severe need, but doctors involved in the trial said they will lobby NHS commissioning boards to make it available to a limited number of treatment-resistant patients next year. Findings from the study were presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Munich.


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