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New treatment for heart disease recommended

The need for a heart transplant among people with severe heart disease can be delayed or even eliminated by a new treatment regimen that emphasizes lowered blood pressure and exercise, a University of California, Los Angeles, researcher said Sunday.

This new treatment alternative is particularly valuable because many potential transplant recipients die while they wait for a donor heart, said Dr. Lynne Warner Stevenson, a cardiologist and medical director of the UCLA Cardiac Transplantation Program. The treatment also greatly reduces the cost of heart disease care.

The key to the new alternative therapy developed at UCLA is lowering what is known as the "filling pressure" of the heart. Because a damaged heart pumps more weakly than a normal one, blood tends to build up at high pressures in the atriums where it enters the heart.

In the new treatment program, a catheter is inserted into the heart to monitor filling pressure. High doses of a drug that reduces blood pressure are administered intravenously for a day.

Over the next two or three days, the intravenous drug is tapered off and oral doses of drugs are used to keep the pressure low. The patient normally leaves the hospital after about five days, at which time he or she is encouraged to begin an exercise program primarily involving walking.