Your cardiologist and/or cardiovascular surgeon have determined that you may benefit from having a permanent heart implant called the WATCHMAN (left atrial appendage closure implant). The WATCHMAN implant is a one-time procedure that may reduce stroke risk for a lifetime and is an option for patients with atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem (also known as non-valvular AFib).
AFib and Stroke Risk
Atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, increases your risk of having a stroke. In fact, on average, a person with AFib is five times more likely to suffer a stroke than someone with a regular heartbeat. The reason for that is because AFib causes your heart to beat irregularly, which affects its ability to pump blood normally. And when the heart does not pump as it should, blood can collect and form clots. If a clot escapes, it can cut off the blood supply to the brain—causing a stroke.
How WATCHMAN Works
Many patients with AFib not caused by a heart valve problem may be prescribed blood thinners to help prevent blood clots. Long-term use of blood thinners like warfarin can increase the risk of excessive bleeding since they reduce the ability of blood to clot.
More than 90% of stroke-causing clots that come from the heart are formed in the left atrial appendage (LAA) for those diagnosed with AFib not caused by a heart valve problem. That is why closing off this part of the heart is an effective way to reduce stroke risk.
The WATCHMAN Implant fits right into your LAA. It is designed to permanently close it off and keep those blood clots from escaping. WATCHMAN is about the size of a quarter and made from very light and compact materials commonly used in many other medical implants.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the WATCHMAN device for use in the United States in 2015. Based on clinical trials, nine out of 10 people were able to stop taking warfarin just 45 days after getting the WATCHMAN device. At one year, 99 out of 100 were able to stop taking warfarin.
Is WATCHMAN right for you?
You may be a candidate for the WATCHMAN implant if you have answer yes to the following questions:
- Do you have atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem?
- Has your doctor recommended that you take a blood thinner for your AFib?
- Can you take warfarin but need an alternative to long-term blood thinners for one of the reasons below?
- You have a history of serious bleeding while taking blood thinners
- You have a lifestyle, occupation or condition that puts you at risk for serious bleeding
- You are taking warfarin and having trouble with your treatment plan, and a different type of blood thinner is not an option for you.
People who should not consider the WATCHMAN implant include but are not limited to those who:
- Cannot take warfarin, aspirin or clopidogrel
- Should not or cannot undergo heart catheterization procedures
- Have an allergy or sensitivity to nitinol (nickel and titanium)
- Have a left atrial appendage that does not fit the WATCHMAN implant
- Are taking blood thinners for a condition other than atrial fibrillation
As with any treatment for your heart, discuss your options with your physician. If you are doing well and expect to continue doing well on blood thinners, your doctor can help you decide if the WATCHMAN implant procedure is right for you.