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Dec. 3, 2021

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Advanced heart treatment reduces stroke risk

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More than five million Americans have atrial fibrillation (AF), a common heart condition where the upper chambers of the heart (atria) beat too fast and with chaotic rhythm (fibrillation). This condition can cause blood to pool and form clots in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA). If a blood clot forms there, it can then travel through an artery to the brain and cause a stroke. The odds are concerning, as roughly one in three AF patients will have a stroke during their lifetime.

Until recently, the most common treatment for AF was to put the patient on a regimen of blood thinning medication to prevent clot formation. Unfortunately, the long-term use of blood thinners can result in potentially serious bleeding complications. Nearly half of all AF patients are left untreated due to concern over potential complications.

Today at PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, patients have another option, called The Watchman™ left atrial appendage closure device.

“The Watchman implant represents a great step forward in our ability to treat atrial fibrillation,” said James Reiss, M.D., a cardiac electrophysiologist at PeaceHealth Southwest. “With the Watchman, we are able to reduce the risk of stroke without the use of blood thinners, enhancing patient safety for those who cannot, or should not, use blood thinning medication.”

The Watchman device is about the size of a quarter. During the placement procedure, the cardiologist accesses the heart using a flexible catheter that is temporarily inserted through a large vein in the patient’s groin and then carefully maneuvered up to the patient’s heart. The Watchman device, which looks like a tiny umbrella, is attached to the end of the catheter. When it reaches the opening of the LAA, the cardiologist positions The Watchman precisely, then detaches it, plugging the LAA opening and preventing blood from entering the chamber. Within weeks new tissue grows over the device creating a permanent seal.

A 2013 study published in the Journal of American College of Cardiology says more than 90 percent of patients implanted with The Watchman were able to stop taking blood thinning medication within 45 days of receiving the Watchman. After one year that figure jumps to 99 percent.

“The Watchman is a big step forward in our treatment of atrial fibrillation,” said Dr. Reiss. “As many people know, atrial fibrillation is a chronic problem which is growing as our population ages.”

The Watchman procedure does not require open-heart surgery. The procedure is typically performed under general anesthesia and lasts about an hour. Patients commonly don’t spend the night in the hospital and are safely monitored for signs of complications before being discharged. Recovery is relatively painless. After a few days of modified physical exertion, patients are usually able to resume their lives without restrictions.

PeaceHealth Southwest was among the first hospitals in the greater Portland-Vancouver area to offer The Watchman – and the team has safely and successfully implanted over 800 since late 2015.

Could The Watchman be right for you or a loved one? To explore this innovative non-invasive AF treatment option, visit peacehealth.org/hearthealth or contact the PeaceHealth Southwest Cardiology team at 360-514-4444.

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