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New Treatment for AFib Reduces Stroke Risk

If you have AFib, the WatchmanTM Device may allow you to stop taking blood thinners for the rest of your life.

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke, blood clots, heart failure and other heart-related complications. It occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly. AFib is a serious condition, and if left untreated, it greatly increases your risk of stroke or dying from a heart-related complication.

What are the symptoms of AFib?

If you are among the more than 2.7 million people in the U.S. with atrial fibrillation, you may already be familiar with the symptoms. The most common AFib symptom is heart palpitations, or a sudden fluttering, quivering, pounding or racing feeling in the chest. Other symptoms may include lack of energy, chest discomfort, dizziness and shortness of breath.

How does AFib lead to stroke?

When your heart doesn’t beat normally, blood stays inside the heart’s chamber too long. This can cause a blood clot to form in the heart which can travel to an artery in the brain, causing a stroke. If your AFib goes untreated, your risk of stroke may be five times higher than if you didn’t have AFib.

How is AFib treated?

The type of treatment prescribed to you for AFib will depend on a number of factors, including the underlying cause of your atrial fibrillation, how severe your symptoms are, how long you have had the condition and other health conditions you have. The goals of treating Afib are focused on lowering your stroke risk by preventing blood clots and managing your arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).

The most common treatment for atrial fibrillation includes taking blood thinners such as Warfarin to lower the risk of blood clots and stroke. But this leaves patients with a choice to make – reducing the risk of stroke while increasing the risk of bleeding. Taking blood thinners is a lifelong commitment and requires routine blood tests. It also requires some restrictions on what you eat and drink. Almost half of patients with AFib do not tolerate the medication well.

Many AFib patients often ask if there is a treatment available other than taking blood thinners. Now there is. The treatment is called the Watchman™ Device. It involves a one-time procedure that helps protect against stroke – and it may be right for you.

The Watchman is a permanent device that helps protect patients at risk from having a stroke due to atrial fibrillation. The device is implanted in your heart to prevent blood clots from forming or entering your bloodstream. Following the procedure, patients can typically stop taking blood thinners after 45 days.

How does the Watchman Work?

The Watchman Device, which received FDA approval in 2015, closes off the heart’s left atrial appendage (LAA) — a small sac-like area where strokes due to AFib typically form. It is about the size of a quarter and made from a very light mesh material used in other medical implants. Implantation of the device is a minimally-invasive procedure that takes about an hour and is performed under general anesthesia. You can usually go home the next day.

During the Watchman procedure, a cardiologist makes a small incision in your upper leg and inserts a narrow tube that is carefully guided through your artery towards the left atrial appendage of your heart. Then the Watchman is guided into place. The device acts as a filter by allowing blood to pass through while stopping clots. This permanent implant reduces the risk of stroke without the risk of bleeding that can occur with the long-term use of blood thinners.

Am I a candidate for the Watchman?

The Watchman procedure may be appropriate for patients who are on blood thinners due to AFib. Candidates for the procedure must be able to tolerate 45 days of blood thinners. Currently, the Watchman is only approved for patients with AFib not caused by a valvular problem, so not everyone is eligible for the procedure. To find out more about the Watchman or whether this procedure is right for you, talk to your cardiologist.

If you think you may be a candidate for the Watchman procedure or are looking for treatment options for your AFib other than blood thinners, click here or take the WATCHMAN Assessment.