New CTEPH procedure now available on NHS

Patients with Chronic Thromboembolic Pulmonary Hypertension (CTEPH) are now able to benefit from a pioneering procedure that uses tiny balloons to inflate and compress blockages in the blood vessels.

The procedure, called balloon pulmonary angioplasty (BPA), is being funded by the NHS and will be carried out at Cambridge’s Royal Papworth Hospital.

The procedure sees cardiologists insert a very fine wire into blood vessels in the lungs and a tiny balloon – approximately 4mm in length – is then guided into position over the wire. The balloon is inflated for a few seconds, to around the size of a pea, which pushes the blockage aside and restores blood flow to the lung tissue. The balloon is then deflated and removed. This can be repeated several times in different parts of the lung during a single treatment session.

Dr Joanna Pepke-Zaba, Consultant Respiratory Physician at Royal Papworth Hospital, was part of an international delegation which travelled to Japan to research the procedure in 2014.

She said: “Because of the success of the pilot study launched at Royal Papworth Hospital three years ago we can provide balloon pulmonary angioplasty in the UK. It allows us to get to those hard-to-reach areas of the lung and offer CTEPH patients a better chance of survival and a much-improved quality of life.”

One patient to benefit from the treatment is Elizabeth Irons, 69, a retired teacher from Nottingham who was rushed to hospital gasping for air after blood clots formed in her lungs.

After being diagnosed with CTEPH, Elizabeth was told the location of the clots were too hard to reach using the only surgical treatment at the time. However, she was given fresh hope when doctors at Cambridge’s Royal Papworth Hospital offered her the new treatment.

Now Elizabeth is looking forward to plenty more days playing with her young granddaughter.

“It’s been an amazing treatment,” she said. “I was awake through the whole thing – I needed to hold my breath for the clinicians at certain points – but I never felt worried because I had such trust in the medical team.

“It’s a life-changing technique; I can do so much more than I could – I’ve been able to go on holidays and fly around the world to see all my sisters. My quality of life has improved enormously.

“I’m also able to be a lot more active with my toddler granddaughter. She was due to be born just as I fell ill – my biggest fear was that I wouldn’t be around to see her grow up.

“It’s wonderful news that NHS England is commissioning BPA at Royal Papworth Hospital so more people can get their lives back.”

Last medically reviewed: April, 2018 • April, 2021