Watchman: Help for People with Atrial Fibrillation

Watchman: Help for People with Atrial Fibrillation

by Dr. Nasser

People with atrial fibrillation who take blood thinners, often discover that the treatment comes with a host of challenges of its own. Now, however, the South Bend Clinic can offer a treatment called Watchman that reduces the risk of stroke and bleeding without the need to take blood thinners.

I am Dr. Naseer Nasser, a cardiologist at the South Bend Clinic. And I have treated more than 100 patients who have atrial fibrillation, or AFib, using the Watchman device, helping those people come off of blood thinners and regain a better quality of life.

AFib is an irregular heartbeat that can cause blood clots, stroke or other complications. For patients with AFib, 90% of the time, blood clots form in a pocket of the heart called the atrial appendage. Blood thinners, which people with AFib must stay on for life, help ensure the blood is thin to prevent clotting.

Now, though, there’s an alternative to blood thinners, which has been very successful. The Watchman device is designed for people with atrial fibrillation that is not caused by a heart valve problem. The device is implanted in the heart through the groin under general anesthesia, using needles, wires, and a camera. The procedure takes about 2 hours and requires one overnight stay in the hospital. After discharge, the only restriction is no lifting of more than 10 pounds for one week.

Since early 2018, I have implanted more than 100 Watchman devices, helping my patients come off of blood thinners. Of those patients, 99% were able to stop blood thinners at their medical recheck 6 weeks after the procedure. One patient took just a bit longer, but at the one-year mark, all of my patients are enjoying a life free of blood thinners.

How Watchman Works

Watchman plugs the left atrial appendage, that part of the heart where 90% of clots occur for patients with AFib, to keep blood from clotting there. Over a period of time following the implant, patients come off of all blood-thinning agents. The device reduces risk of stroke, as well as bleeding risk. It’s a device with a huge future. The American Heart Association estimates about 2.7 million Americans have AFib.

Not everyone with AFib will qualify for the procedure. You must have AFib that’s not caused by a valve disease. If you qualify on that count, other medical conditions come into play, such as heart failure, hypertension, age greater than 65, diabetes, vascular disease, or previous stroke or TIA (mini strokes).

Left atrial appendage closure also reduces bleeding risk, which makes the device something to consider for people with a history of hypertension, kidney or liver dysfunction, and bleeding, including anemia. In addition, people in jobs with a high risk of injuries, such as police officer or firefighter, or with hobbies that involve risk – cycling, hiking – may also be considered good candidates. People for whom the blood thinners are too costly or who struggle with the dietary requirements may find that the Watchman device improves their quality of life.

As with any procedure, there can be complications, but the risk involved with implanting Watchman is a very low 1.5%, including any chance of infection or bleeding at the puncture site in the groin.

For more information about this or other treatment for heart-related conditions, contact my office at the North Eddy Street location of the South Bend Clinic, 574.234.8161.