For the millions in America with atrial fibrillation, a type of abnormal heartbeat, treatment has traditionally included lifelong medication therapy to reduce stroke risk. WATCHMAN, an implantable device offered by Georgia Heart Institute, offers an innovative alternative to reduce the risk of stroke.
Atrial fibrillation typically causes a fast and irregular heartbeat and significantly increases the risk of stroke by promoting blood clots that form predominantly in an area of the left atrium called the left atrial appendage. Patients commonly develop symptoms of heart fluttering or palpitations, fatigue, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, dizziness, or increased leg or ankle swelling.
Because atrial fibrillation causes abnormal, weaker contractions of the heart, blood pools in the heart and can form blood clots. If a clot leaves the heart and travels to the brain, it can block the flow of blood through the arteries, causing a stroke. As a result, those with atrial fibrillation are five times more likely than the general population to suffer a stroke.
Most patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation are potential candidates for WATCHMAN implantation. This includes patients who are recommended to have anticoagulation therapy, but aren’t suitable candidates for various reasons such as: a history of serious bleeding, frequent falling with injuries or intolerable side effects from the medications.
WATCHMAN at Georgia Heart Institute
Treatment for atrial fibrillation has multiple goals, including restoring the heart to a normal rhythm, preventing heart failure and preventing blood clots.
The standard of care has been long-term use of anticoagulant medications, such as warfarin. These medications are also known as blood thinners, and one of their side effects is an increased risk of bleeding. Because of this, careful monitoring and regular medical appointments are typically required, particularly with warfarin.
The WATCHMAN is an implantable device that is inserted into the left atrial appendage through catheters that are inserted into a vein in the leg, The device plugs off and seals the left atrial appendage from the left atrium to prevent future clot formation. The innovative aspect of this non-surgical procedure is the way that stroke risk is reduced by closing off the left atrial appendage, which eliminates the need for long-term anticoagulant therapy.
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