British doctors treated a grandmother’s dangerously high blood pressure by inserting an electric wire in her brain in a world first.
Amely Hoffmann, 55, had blood pressure that was so high she was at risk of suffering a stroke at any time.
Her condition was resistant to conventional drugs, of which she had taken eight different kinds for more than ten years.
Desperate for a solution, she read online about a technique called Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) – used to control chronic pain and Parkinson’s disease – which was found to have the unexpected effect of also cutting blood pressure.
This involves inserting a thin wire electrode into the brain and connecting it to a battery-powered pacemaker.
Mrs Hoffmann, from Germany, contacted the UK team who made the blood pressure discovery in 2011 and volunteered to be a human guinea pig. She then travelled to Britain for the surgery at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. Her blood pressure, although still high, has dramatically dropped.
Mrs Hoffmann, a widow with four grown-up children and three grandchildren, said: ‘Despite countless tests and check-ups, no one seemed to be able to find the cause. I was suffering from very intense headaches and endured sudden deafness or hearing loss.
‘I was told I was living under the constant risk of getting a stroke … I was worried for my children.’ In 2011, neurosurgeon Nik Patel of North Bristol NHS Trust, along with colleagues from Bristol University, discovered that stimulation of part of the brain called PAG – the periaqueductal gray region – brought down blood pressure by sending a signal to the heart to pump less forcefully.
Mrs Hoffmann, who lives in the state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, north-east Germany, said: ‘I was afraid of the surgery itself.
‘Although I’ve had so many surgeries before, this was a completely different story. And yet, the fear that not even the DBS would work to finally bring down my blood pressure was even worse.’
Consultant cardiologist Dr Angus Nightingale, of the Bristol Heart Institute, said Mrs Hoffmann’s blood pressure before treatment was the highest he had ever seen at 320/150 mmHg.Normal blood pressure is 90-120/60-80- mmHg and a patient with severe hypertension would typically have blood pressure of 180/90 mmHg.
Afterwards, she was able to come off all her blood pressure drugs except one, which needed to be reduced gradually.
She said: ‘The incredible difference the DBS made was obvious immediately after the surgery. The device was not even switched on, but placing the electrode in my brain and the resulting swelling alone brought down my blood pressure by about 150 mmHg.’
Mr Patel said he was hopeful the treatment could help other high blood pressure patients.
Now Mrs Hoffmann’s blood pressure ranges between 180 – 220/130 mmHg – a huge reduction, although still very high.