FLORENCE — McLeod Regional Medical Center is among the first hospitals in the region to offer patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation an alternative to long-term blood thinning warfarin medication with the newly approved Watchman left atrial appendage closure implant.
For patients with atrial fibrillation who are considered suitable for blood-thinning medications by their physicians but who have reason to seek a non-drug alternative, the Watchman implant is an alternative to reduce their risk of atrial fibrillation -related stroke.
The implant closes off an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage to keep harmful blood clots from this area from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing a stroke. By closing off the left atrial appendage, the risk of stroke may be reduced and, over time, patients may be able to stop taking blood-thinning medications.
People with atrial fibrillation have a five-times greater risk of stroke. Atrial fibrillation can cause blood to pool and form clots in the left atrial appendage. For patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation, the left atrial appendage is believed to be the source of the majority of stroke-causing blood clots.
If a clot forms in the left atrial appendage, it can increase one’s risk of having a stroke. Blood clots can break loose and travel in the bloodstream to the brain, lungs, and other parts of the body.
“The new Watchman LAAC implant provides physicians with a breakthrough stroke risk reduction option for patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation,” said Dr. Rajesh Malik, director of electrophysiology services for the McLeod Heart and Vascular Institute. “These patients who are seeking an alternative to blood thinning medications, the Watchman implant offers a potentially life-changing stroke risk treatment option which could free them from the challenges of long-term blood-thinning medication therapy.”
Implanting the Watchman device is a one-time procedure that usually takes about one hour. Following the procedure, patients typically need to stay in the hospital for 24 hours.
Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition where the upper chambers of the heart (atrium) beat too fast and with irregular rhythm (fibrillation). Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, currently affecting more than five million Americans. Twenty percent of all strokes occur in patients with atrial fibrillation, and atrial fibrillation-related strokes are more frequently fatal and disabling.
The most common treatment to reduce stroke risk in patients with atrial fibrillation is blood-thinning warfarin medication. Despite its proven efficacy, long-term warfarin medication is not well-tolerated by some patients and carries a significant risk for bleeding complications. Nearly half of atrial fibrillation patients eligible for warfarin are currently untreated due to tolerance and adherence issues.
The Watchman implant is designed to close the left atrial appendage in order to keep harmful blood clots from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing a stroke for higher risk patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation. It has been approved in Europe since 2005 and is FDA-approved in the United States. It has been implanted in more than 10,000 patients and is approved in more than 70 countries around the world.
For more information on the Watchman implant, visit www.Mcleodheart.org or watchmanimplant.com. To find out if you are a candidate for the device, call McLeod Cardiology at 843-667-1891.
McLeod Health provided information for this story.