McLaren Macomb in Mount Clemens has started to offer a new procedure using a special device for stroke prevention as an alternative for patients prescribed with a long-term anticoagulant, a blood thinning medication.
Called the Watchman, the device is installed in a minimally invasive procedure performed in the hospital’s Mat Gaberty Heart Center. Once implanted, the Watchman device closes off the left atrial appendage, a small, non-vital opening in the heart’s left atrium muscle wall. For patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation, blood can pool in this appendage, increasing the chances of clots forming and traveling through the blood stream to the brain, potentially leading to a life-threatening ischemic stroke.
“The Watchman device is a great alternative for atrial fibrillation patients who are unable to take anticoagulants to prevent strokes,” says Dr. M. Cameron Willoughby, a cardiac electrophysiologist at McLaren Macomb. “We are enthusiastic to be able to provide this service for the patients in our community.”
Willoughby says the Watchman safely and effectively seals the opening to the appendage, not allowing blood to pool and potentially create troublesome clots. This can lead to patients on long-term anticoagulation therapy to no longer require the blood thinning medication, which can carry risks of complications.
The device is implanted via a catheter inserted into the groin and tunneled up to the heart and the left atrial appendage for deployment. The Watchman was approved by the FDA after extensive clinical trials, which showed strong evidence that the device can be safely implanted and reduce the chances of stroke in eligible patients.
Patients with atrial fibrillation live with a greater risk for stroke. The non-valvular form of atrial fibrillation is caused by conditions such as high blood pressure or an overactive thyroid rather than a faulty heart valve. Blood thinning medications help prevent the formations of blood clots in patients’ bloodstreams.
Atrial fibrillation, affecting more than five million people in the United States, is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, with 20 percent of all strokes occurring in patients with atrial fibrillation.