Watchman Implant Reduces Risk of Stroke in AFib Patients

At Orlando Health, our doctors are trained in the newest surgical techniques and treatments to offer our patients more options for improved health and quality of life. Patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib) who cannot be treated with the blood thinner warfarin due to bleeding concerns can now receive a minimally invasive procedure called the Watchmanâ„¢ implant to reduce their risk of stroke.

Watchman is a one-time procedure approved by the Food and Drug Administration that reduces the risk of stroke in people with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (AFib not caused by heart valve problems). According to clinical studies, the Watchman implant is as effective at reducing the risk of stroke as warfarin (brand name Coumadin or Jantoven). But unlike warfarin, the procedure also reduces the long-term risk of bleeding. Newer blood thinners offer an option to warfarin, but they don’t take away the long-term risk of bleeding.

The Watchman procedure may be an option for patients who:

  • Have AFib not caused by heart valve problems
  • Have been recommended to take blood thinning medicines by their doctor 
  • Can take warfarin but need an alternative to blood thinners because they have a history of bleeding or a lifestyle that puts them at risk for bleeding from long term therapy

How the Procedure Works

The Watchman implant is designed to close the left atrial appendage in the heart to keep harmful blood clots from entering the blood stream and potentially causing a stroke. In this minimally invasive procedure, the device is implanted like a stent, by means of a narrow tube inserted through a small incision in the upper leg. The surgeon guides the implant through the tube and places it in the left chamber of the heart to close the left atrial appendage.

The procedure is done under general anesthesia and takes about an hour. Patients commonly stay in the hospital overnight and leave the next day. The Watchman device is a one-time implant and does not need to be replaced.

Safety and Efficacy

The Watchman implant has a proven record of safety — with over 20,000 procedures performed worldwide and over 10 years of clinical studies in more than 2,000 patients. In one major study:

  • 92 percent of patients were able to stop taking warfarin 45 days after receiving the Watchman implant
  • 99 percent of patients were able to stop taking warfarin within a year of receiving the implant

Insurance coverage and cost savings

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) covers the Watchman implant for Medicare beneficiaries who meet specific criteria. The procedure is also covered by an increasing number of commercial health insurers.

Compared to the ongoing costs of taking medication, the Watchman procedure is less expensive in the long term. Over a 5-year period, the estimated average out-of-pocket costs for Medicare beneficiaries were lower for Watchman than for warfarin.

To find out if you are a candidate for the Watchman procedure, consult your cardiologist or one of the doctors listed on this page. Be sure to talk with your doctor to understand all of the risks and benefits associated with implantation of the Watchman device.

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Request an Appointment with an Orlando Health Cardiologist

Request an appointment with an Orlando Health cardiologist to find out if the Watchman procedure is right for you.