What you need to know about Atrial Fibrillation, Stroke and the Watchman Implant
What is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is a heart rhythm problem in which the upper chambers of your heart beat too fast. This can cause a blood clot to form in the left atrial appendage (LAA) - a small windsock shaped pouch on the top of your heart. This can increase your chances of having a stroke and other related problems. More than 90% of blood clots that cause stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation originate in the LAA. Atrial fibrillation increases your risk of stroke 5 to 7 fold.
How can you reduce your risk of stroke?
Depending on your risk factors, your doctor may recommend a blood thinner.
Anticoagulation (blood thinners)
Blood thinners such as warfarin (Coumadin) or the newer medications such as Apixaban (Eliquis), Dabigatran (Pradaxa) or Rivaroxaban (Xarelto) reduce the risk of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation. However, some patients cannot take blood thinners due to prior bleeding difficulties or risk of future bleeding. Left atrial appendage closure (LAAC) The WATCHMAN device has been approved by the FDA as a non-drug alternative to reduce their risk of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation. Patients with an increased risk for stroke who are suitable for short-term blood thinning but are unable to take blood thinners long-term should be considered for this procedure.
What is the Watchman LAAC Implant?
The WATCHMAN device is a parachute-shaped self-expanding device permanently implanted in the LAA sealing it off. It prevents blood clots in the LAA from entering the bloodstream. It is made of materials that are common to many medical devices, is about the size of a quarter, and it cannot be seen outside the body.
How is the WATCHMAN device implanted?
The WATCHMAN Implant is typically performed while you are asleep. Your doctor will guide the WATCHMAN device into your heart through a flexible tube (catheter) inserted through a vein in your upper leg. Once the position is confirmed, your doctor will release the implant to leave it permanently in the heart. The implant does not require open heart surgery. You would then need to stay in the hospital overnight and recovery typically takes about 24 hours. After 6 weeks, you may be able to stop taking your blood thinner.
What are the steps before WATCHMAN implant?
To see if you are a possible candidate for treatment with the WATCHMAN device, you will have a comprehensive assessment by the WATCHMAN team at the SIH Prairie Heart Institute. This will include:
- A Transesophageal Echocardiogram (TEE)
TEE images are used to evaluate the shape and size of your LAA. The measurements will help Your doctor determine the size of the LAAC device. You will not be able to eat or drink anything 6 hours prior to the TEE.
- A Laboratory Visit
On the day of your TEE you will have a blood draw to evaluate basic lab values.