For those with atrial fibrillation (AFib), an implantable device called WATCHMAN™ may eliminate the need to take blood-thinning medications.
Patients with AFib have an increased risk of stroke. As the heart pumps less effectively, blood can pool in the left atrial appendage (LAA), a sack-like pouch that sits on the top-left part of your heart. Deadly clots can form in this pooled blood, travel through your system and potentially block the flow of blood to your brain and other organs.
Blood-thinning medication (anticoagulant) is a common treatment to reduce the formation of clots, including in the blood that collects in the LAA. But those medications often require a lifelong commitment and the need to regularly monitor and adjust your dosage. Many patients are unable to take long term blood thinners because they can’t combine them with other prescriptions or because of previous abnormal bleeding events.
WATCHMAN is an alternative treatment option that prevents the blood from pooling in the LAA in first place. This FDA-approved device, implanted in the heart, expands inside your LAA, eliminating the space where blood can collect and clots can form.
Research shows the WATCHMAN device decreases the risk of stroke at least as effectively as blood thinners. After having the WATCHMAN implanted, 9 out of 10 patients were able to stop taking blood thinning-medication after 45 days.
Mercy was the first health system in Northwest Arkansas and St. Louis to offer WATCHMAN. Mercy Heart and Vascular Hospital in St. Louis served as one of the top three leading enrollment sites in the U.S. for WATCHMAN clinical trials.
The WATCHMAN device has a shape similar to a parachute that is designed seal off the LAA. It is inserted using flexible tubes (catheters) threaded to your heart through a vein in the groin.
A team heart specialists use specialized imaging technology (echocardiogram and X-ray) to help guide the device into place. You won’t feel any pain because you’ll be under general anesthesia.
The heart procedure usually takes one to two hours and requires an overnight stay in the hospital for observation. You’ll have a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) within 48 hours of the procedure to ensure the device is working properly.
Once you have the WATCHMAN implant, you’ll continue taking your blood thinners for at least 45 days after the procedure. You’ll follow up with your cardiologist and/or electrophysiologist at that time and will have another TEE. If the results show the WATCHMAN device is in place and there’s no significant leak, you should be able to discontinue your blood thinning medication.
One year after the procedure, you’ll need another follow-up visit. Your physician may order a third TEE to ensure the device is still working properly.
Not everyone with AFib is a candidate for the WATCHMAN device. WATCHMAN is designed for patients who: