Why the Watchman is worth watching

Why the Watchman is worth watching
(Source: Lexington Medical Center)
(Source: Lexington Medical Center)

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - If you have multiple risk factors for a stroke, you'll want to know about a new device that can protect you.

It's called The Watchman and Lexington Medical Center has been using it for about two months now. This is stroke awareness month - so it's a good time to make sure you know why something the size of this quarter can prevent a stroke.

Of all the heart-related medical issues Dr. Will Brabham treats, he is finding atrial fibrillation - or A-fib for short - to be an epidemic. A-fib is a type of irregular heartbeat.

"As the population ages, this is a disease associated with age. That is probably the strongest risk factor for developing the condition," says Dr. Brabham.

In A-fib, the heart's upper chambers beat out of coordination with the lower chambers. And nearly one of three people with A-fib will have a stroke as blood is more likely to pool in the left atrial appendage - a small pouch on the left side of your heart.

In fact, more than 90 percent of the stroke-causing clots that form in the heart happen here.

"As a cardiologist and electrophysiologist we take care of a lot of patients with atrial fibrillation," Dr. Brabham says. "The most concerning aspect of that care is the risk of stroke and that is one of the most important issues that we address in these patients."

Blood thinners to prevent clots have been around for decades, but Dr. Brabham now prefers a new device called The Watchman - especially since blood thinners come with side effects.

"We have these patients who may have slow bleeding on anticoagulation and this device allows them to come off that," Dr. Brabham said.

The Watchman is a permanent device that's implanted using a catheter through the vein into the left side of the heart. It permanently seals off the left atrial appendage where blood clots form.

"The number of patients that are going to be candidates for this will continue to grow. I think we are learning more about the device as time goes on and many times, things are improved and indications expand," Dr. Brabham says. "We might become more liberal with it over time or we may become more restrictive. It's tough to know."

In time, heart tissue will grow over the Watchman device, and most patients then will stop blood thinners 45 days later. You'll spend one night in the hospital after The Watchman procedure.

The procedure is covered by insurance.

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