Atrial fibrillation is a health condition that makes one have a rapid and irregular heart rhythm, also known as arrhythmia. It makes blood clots in the heart. This health condition can lead to stroke and systemic embolism. Seeking medical attention is recommended if you have atrial fibrillation. 

On some occasions, it may be difficult for you to take anticoagulant medications when you have atrial fibrillation. The doctor will recommend that you undergo a procedure called left atrial appendage closure (LAA closure or LAAC). It helps in reducing the risk of one getting a stroke. One of the several types of LAA closure techniques is the use of a device known as Watchman. 

This new method was approved by the U.S Food and Drug Administration in 2015. It was approved for patients with atrial fibrillation who need blood-thinning medication alternatives.

What is Watchman Device and how is it Implanted?

The device works through a process known as occlusion which means to ‘block’. The Watchman is used to block the left atrial appendage (LAA) thereby preventing blood from reaching it. 

Blood usually pools and clots in the LAA if one has atrial fibrillation. The clots that are made can move through the bloodstream all the way to the brain blocking the blood flow and thereby causing ischemic stroke. In order to reduce this type of stroke, the LAA is blocked.

The Watchman has a likely shape like that of a parachute or an umbrella. In terms of size, it is approximately a quarter. It is usually made of surgical fabric and small metal barbs which holds it in a good position against the LAA and the walls of the heart. 

Once implantation is done, it remains in the heart permanently. In the beginning, the blood is slowed from entering the LAA, and with time the opening of the LAA is permanently sealed by tissues that are formed around the device. It is placed once and as long as it is in a good position and working, another procedure is not needed. 

The procedures are performed in an electrophysiology laboratory or a cardiac laboratory by a trained cardiologist. When the procedure is being done, you will be under general anesthesia the whole time; about an hour.

First of all, a transesophageal echocardiogram is performed. This ensures that no blood clots are in the heart. When you are under anesthesia, a small incision is created on your upper leg. Thin flexible tubes (catheters) are then guided into the bloodstream through your leg until they reach the left atrial appendage of the heart. 

The catheters in the vein of your leg will then be used to perform a transseptal puncture. This helps in crossing from the right atrium to the left atrium. 

The Watchman device is then guided through a catheter. Once it is in an appropriate place; at the LAA entrance, it is opened and positioned carefully to block the LAA completely. The catheters are then removed from the body.

Risks that are Associated with the Procedure

During the whole procedure, imaging tools are used to track the movement and placement of the Watchman in the heart and the blood vessels. There are some risks that are associated with this procedure. Like most procedures performed on the heart, there is a risk of bleeding, heart attack or stroke, however, these risks are extremely low.  The most common risk is bleeding at the puncture sites in the legs where catheters are introduced. Typically, small collagen plugs or sutures are deployed at the end of the procedure to minimize bleeding.

Contact Virginia Arrhythmia Consultants

Atrial fibrillation can cause strokes which can lead to disability or that can be very fatal. At Virginia Arrhythmia Consultants, we are devoted to managing heart rhythm disorders to reduce the risks of stroke. We are advanced in cardiac electrophysiology. This means that all the heart rhythm disorders that we handle are amenable to treatment and the majority are permanently cured. 

Our physicians are highly experienced in utilizing the latest tools and techniques. They have performed a lot of ablations and device surgeries thereby improving patients’ life and extending their life expectancy. 

In case you have atrial fibrillation and are unable to take blood thinners our expertly trained physicians can offer the Watchman procedure.  This will allow you to enjoy life without blood thinners.  We provide information on what you need to do before and after the procedure and the expectations. You can make an appointment with our heart rhythm specialists for a procedure.   

Join the team at Virginia Arrhythmia Consultants as we recognize Atrial Fibrillation Awareness month during September! CLICK HERE