Our hearts keep us alive, but they can sometimes be vulnerable to certain issues that put us at risk. A stroke is a medical emergency that can be the result of a blood clot that escapes the heart and blocks blood flow to the brain. If you are someone who is at high risk of stroke and requires the use of blood thinners due to atrial fibrillation, there may be an alternative solution. The WATCHMAN is a device that can replace the need for blood-thinning medications, especially in patients that are at high risk for bleeding.
What Is the WATCHMAN Device?
The WATCHMAN is a small device implanted in what is called the left atrial appendage. The left atrial appendage (LAA) is a pouch-like structure where clots typically develop. The WATCHMAN is a device that acts as a plug so that clots cannot form and be dislodged. This device has been found to be just as effective as taking blood thinners and a great alternative to reducing the risk of stroke. It is implanted by placing a catheter from the vein in the groin which is advanced into the heart. Once the device is implanted during a one-time procedure it will never need to be replaced. You will need to be on blood thinners for a short period of time after the procedure as the device settles into your heart.
Why Is a WATCHMAN Device Implantation Done?
A WATCHMAN device implantation is conducted in order to prevent the occurrence of a stroke, which is most commonly caused by atrial fibrillation. More than five million Americans have atrial fibrillation and it is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. This condition also referred to as AFib, prevents the heart from effectively pumping blood, which results in blood pooling and settling in the LAA. This leads to blood cells “clumping” and clotting which can escape the heart and travel to other areas of the body and more importantly the brain. When this happens, it can result in a lack of blood to the brain that will eventually cause a stroke. To reduce the risk of a stroke, the WATCHMAN device closes off or plugs the LAA where blood clots tend to form.
When Is a WATCHMAN Device Implantation Needed?
If you happen to be on blood thinners due to atrial fibrillation, the WATCHMAN device can be an effective alternative in patients who are at high risk for bleeding or falls. In addition, some patients cannot tolerate blood thinners due to a history of cancer, liver disease, kidney problems, stomach ulcers, or uncontrolled blood pressure. If any of these conditions apply to you, the WATCHMAN device can offer a safe alternative. Additionally, it can also be beneficial to those who have trouble remembering to take their medication, as well as struggle to keep up with the associated cost and dietary restrictions.
How Is a WATCHMAN Device Implantation Performed?
The WATCHMAN device implantation is a one-time procedure and does not require a replacement. During the procedure, your doctor will insert a narrow tube through a small hole in your upper leg. Then, the WATCHMAN will be guided through this tube into the left atrial appendage of your heart. This procedure is typically completed in about an hour and maybe performed with sedation or general anesthesia.
Once the procedure is complete, you will stay in a recovery room to be monitored until your anesthesia wears off. It’s possible that you will feel some soreness in the area of the insertion. You will most likely need to be on some type of medication for about 6 months after the procedure. Eventually, heart tissue will grow over the implant, forming a barrier against blood clots. You will have a follow-up appointment in order to monitor the device and determine when you can come off of the blood thinners.
What are the Next Steps After a WATCHMAN Device Implantation?
The Heart Rhythm Institute of Arizona offers the WATCHMAN device implantation for those requiring an alternative to blood thinners. The device has proven to be highly effective at preventing strokes that are caused by blood clots in the LAA. If you want to learn more about the WATCHMAN device and find out if it’s right for you, meet with Dr. Beshai, an experienced cardiac electrophysiologist and learn more about your options, we invite you to contact the Heart Rhythm Institute of Arizona by calling or filling out our online form.
Dr. Beshai is a board-certified electrophysiologist internationally renowned and respected for his expertise and research. Having published in major medical journals and travelled all over the world to present research, he is dedicated to providing innovative, state-of-the-art care to his patients.