A Permanent Solution for Reducing Stroke and Bleeding Risk in Patients With Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)
Atrial Fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common kind of heart arrhythmia. Statistics show that people with untreated AFib have a five times greater stroke risk compared to that of a person with a normal heart rhythm.
The Link Between AFib and Stroke
In people with AFib, the heart’s electrical system causes the upper chambers of the heart to beat irregularly and often, too rapidly. Most strokes caused by AFib are due to blood clots that form in a small pocket of the heart called the left atrial appendage. These blood clots can break loose and travel to the brain or other parts of the body. When a clot travels to the brain, a serious stroke can occur.
Therefore, most people with atrial fibrillation are prescribed anti-clotting medication such as Coumadin, which is designed to reduce the risk of blood clots forming in the body. However, not everyone tolerates these blood thinning medications well, and some people have medical conditions that preclude taking them. In addition, long-term use of blood thinners is associated with a higher risk of bleeding.
The WATCHMAN™ Implant: A One-time Procedure that Reduces Stroke Risk for a Lifetime
Now, there’s a minimally invasive alternative to anticoagulation for the treatment of AFib: the WATCHMAN implant. The device is a small implantable stent that is designed to close off the left atrial appendage so that blood clots cannot form there.
WATCHMAN is the only implant of its kind approved by the FDA. Over 50,000 people worldwide have received the implant, with excellent outcomes:
- In a clinical trial, 9 out of 10 people were able to stop taking warfarin just 45 days after the WATCHMAN procedure.
- 99 out of 100 people were able to stop taking warfarin within a year after the procedure.
(Watch the above video to learn more about Atrial Fibrillation treatment and the Watchman Implant Procedure from Arun Raghupathy, MD, FACC)
The WATCHMAN Procedure
Roughly the size of a quarter, the WATCHMAN fits into the left atrial appendage (LAA) of your heart. The procedure does not require open-heart surgery.
To implant WATCHMAN, an interventional cardiologist first makes a small cut in a vein in your groin. A narrow tube is then threaded through the vein, all the way up to your heart. Your doctor guides WATCHMAN through the tube and positions it in place to close off your left atrial appendage. The procedure is done under general anesthesia and typically takes about an hour.
After the procedure, patients usually spend one night in the hospital and go home the next day. Over the next six weeks, heart tissue will grow over the WATCHMAN implant, forming a permanent barrier against blood clots. You will continue to take a blood thinner for about 45 days, until your LAA is permanently closed off.
Click here to listen to Arun Raghupathy, MD, FACC's Healing Podcast, as he discuss the Watchman Procedure as An Alternative to Blood Thinners for AFIB Patients
Who is a Good Candidate for WATCHMAN?
WATCHMAN is appropriate for people with atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem. Traditionally, the initial treatment approach is the use of blood thinners such as Warfarin. If you are doing well on blood thinners, WATCHMAN is probably not the best treatment option for you. However, some patients need an alternative to blood thinners for one of more of the following reasons:
- A history of serious bleeding while taking blood thinners
- A lifestyle, occupation, or condition that increases the risk of serious bleeding
- Trouble tolerating Warfarin when a different type of blood thinner is not an option
Who is NOT a Good Candidate for WATCHMAN?
WATCHMAN is an effective minimally invasive procedure that can reduce your stroke risk for a lifetime. Like all procedures there are certain risks associated with left atrial appendage closure. Talk to your cardiologist to discuss the potential risks and benefits and help decide if WATCHMAN is right for you.
Cost and Coverage
Medicare, as well as a growing number of insurance providers, will cover the WATCHMAN procedure for patients who meet certain national coverage criteria.