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New Option for Reducing AF Stroke Risk

There is a new option to reduce the risk of stroke in patients with atrial fibrillation (AF) who wish to avoid taking warfarin or other anticoagulants. The implantation of a left atrial appendage closure (LAAC) device offers an alternative for AF patients who rely on blood thinning medications such as warfarin (Coumadin) to reduce their risk of stroke.

Summa Health electrophysiologists Tyler Taigen, M.D., medical director of Summa’s atrial fibrillation program and Michael Pelini, medical director for electrophysiology at Summa, began implanting the WATCHMAN™ device, manufactured by Boston Scientific, in patients on June 10.

Summa Health is one of the few hospitals in the U.S. (and only the second in Ohio) to offer patients this new alternative to a lifetime regimen of blood thinners.

The left atrial appendage (LAA) has been identified as the source of the majority of stroke-causing blood clots in patients with AFib1. The WATCHMAN procedure closes off the LAA to keep harmful blood clots in that area from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing a stroke. By closing off the appendage and reducing the risk of stroke, patients may be able to safely stop taking anticoagulant medications.

The LAAC device implantation procedure is performed under general anesthesia and is similar to left heart catheter ablation procedures. The implant is guided into the left atrial appendage through a catheter inserted through a vein in the groin. Once in place, the implant is deployed permanently in the heart.

The procedure does not require open heart surgery. Patients stay in the hospital overnight and recovery usually takes about 24 hours. Six weeks after implantation, a cardiac echo is performed to evaluate whether the patient may safely discontinue warfarin.

Typically, 95 percent of patients are able to discontinue warfarin.

Call (330) 376-7000 to schedule a consultation for a patient or to get more information about the WATCHMAN™ procedure.

1 Blackshear J. and Odell J., Annals of Thoracic Surgery. 1996; 61:755-759.

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