WatchmanGulf Coast Healthy Living Magazine Volume 5, Issue 3 - Baptist Health Care
Watchman - Lowering Stroke Risk for AFib Patients
The left atrial appendage (LAA) is a little mystery of the heart. An ear-shaped pouch extending from the left atrium, it appears to have no purpose. Its existence, however, is not entirely benign, particularly for atrial fibrillation patients. Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat out of coordination with the lower chambers, causing sporadic heart palpitations that can allow blood to stagnate in the LAA and eventually clot. If these clots break away and enter the blood stream, they can cause a stroke.
AFib patients are five times more likely to have a stroke, and strokes in AFib patients tend to be more disabling. Because of this risk, many AFib patients take warfarin, an anti-coagulant or blood thinner. However, long term warfarin treatment has its drawbacks ranging from intolerable side effects such as bleeding to lifestyle limitations.
A new treatment, LAA closure with the WATCHMAN™ device, is giving some patients on the Gulf Coast WATCHMAN another option. Consisting of a self-expanding nickel titanium frame with fixation anchors and covered by a surgical fabric (it looks like a tiny jelly fish), the WATCHMAN is threaded through the femoral vein in the leg and into the heart where it’s implanted at the opening of the LAA, trapping existing clots inside and preventing their escape into the blood stream. The procedure is performed under general anesthesia in the catheterization laboratory and usually lasts about an hour followed by a 24-hour hospital stay. Patients remain on warfarin for 45 days following the procedure. After that time, if the closure was successful the patient may be taken off warfarin completely and follow up with a daily baby aspirin.