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New Procedure May Reduce Lifetime Stroke Risk in A-Fib Patients

May 13, 2017

Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the country, and every year 795,000 Americans experience this condition.

Several things can increase your stroke risk, including atrial fibrillation, a heart condition where the upper chambers of your heart (atria) beat too fast with a chaotic rhythm called fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation can cause blood to pool and form clots in the heart. About 90 percent of these clots are formed in an area called the left atrial appendage (LAA). If blood clots form, it can travel through an artery to the brain and cause a stroke.

In December 2016, Orlando Health began offering a new procedure that helps to reduce stroke risk in patients with atrial fibrillation. Here’s what you need to know:

What is It?

The procedure, called the WATCHMAN Left Atrial Appendage Closure, is an innovative one-time procedure in which a device is implanted to plug the left atrial appendage. The procedure is performed on patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation to reduce their stroke risk.

The WATCHMAN procedure — the only FDA approved procedure of its kind — is an alternative treatment for patients who need to be on long-term anticoagulation therapy (blood thinners) to reduce their stroke risk, but have developed a stomach bleed, head bleed or other complications while on blood thinners.

Patients who undergo the WATCHMAN procedure typically stay in the hospital for a day. Studies have shown 92 percent of patients were able to stop taking Warfarin, a blood thinner used to prevent blood clots, 45 days after WATCHMAN implantation. More than 99 percent of patients were able to stop taking this medication a year after the device was implanted.

Am I a Candidate?

Appropriate candidates for this procedure include patients who have a history of major bleeding with blood thinners, anyone who is unable to maintain a stable therapeutic International Normalized Ratio or INR (meaning their blood clots too quickly even on anticoagulation therapy), those who can’t comply with regular INR monitoring and who can’t use an approved alternative therapy to prevent blood clots and people who have a medical condition, job or lifestyle that puts them at risk for major trauma and major bleeding.

Overall, WATCHMAN provides more options for patients at high risk for stroke who are unable to take long-term oral blood thinners.

What impact will this procedure have?

At Orlando Health, the patient experience and quality care are very important. Our physicians are trained in the newest and most advanced treatments, giving patients options to improve their health and quality of life. We strive to offer the most comprehensive care available for a wide range of cardiovascular conditions, so we’re excited about offering this innovative procedure to people who otherwise wouldn’t have many options to reduce their risk.

For more information about Orlando Health’s WATCHMAN program and to request an appointment with one of our cardiologists, please visit Orlando Health’s website.

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