Did you know that around 2.7 million people in America live with atrial fibrillation (AFib), a heart rhythm condition that increases the risk of stroke five times more than people without AFib? AFib is a medical condition that occurs when the upper chambers of the heart (atria) contract out of sync with the heart’s two lower chambers (ventricles), causing the heart to beat irregularly. Over time, the irregular heartbeat can trigger blood clots that flow to the brain, causing a stroke. Fortunately, medical experts have developed a procedure called Watchman surgery to prevent this condition from happening. In this blog post, we’ll dive deeper into what Watchman surgery is and how it works.
What is Watchman surgery?
Watchman surgery is a minimally invasive procedure that aims to reduce the risk of stroke in people with AFib. It involves inserting a small implant device into the heart called the Watchman device. The device is shaped like a tiny parachute with a mesh-like material that prevents blood clots from escaping the left atrial appendage (LAA), a small finger-like extension that is found in the left atrium of the heart where blood clots typically form.
How does Watchman surgery work?
Watchman surgery is performed under general anesthesia by a cardiac electrophysiologist, a doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating heart rhythm disorders. The procedure typically lasts about an hour and involves the following steps:
Step 1: The doctor inserts a flexible tube called a catheter through a tiny incision in the groin area and threads it up through the femoral vein until it reaches the heart’s left atrium.
Step 2: Once the catheter is in place, the doctor guides the Watchman device into the left atrial appendage, where it is deployed by opening up like an umbrella.
Step 3: The doctor then checks the device’s position and ensures that it is securely implanted.
Step 4: After the doctor confirms that the device is in the correct position, the patient is given medication to prevent blood clots from forming around the device.
Step 5: The patient remains in the hospital for around 24 hours, and then the device and the patient are allowed to leave the hospital.
The device itself is made of nickel titanium and is about the size of a quarter. Over time, the heart tissue grows around the device and seals off the left atrial appendage, reducing the risk of blood clots that lead to stroke.
What are the benefits of Watchman surgery?
Watchman surgery offers many benefits, including:
Reduced risk of stroke: By blocking the LAA, Watchman surgery can help prevent blood clots from escaping and reduce the risk of stroke in people with AFib.
Less medication: Since the Watchman device seals off the LAA, it reduces the need for blood-thinning medication like warfarin, which can cause severe bleeding in some patients.
Minimally invasive: Watchman surgery is a minimally invasive procedure, so patients often experience less pain and a shorter recovery time than traditional open-heart surgery.
Long-term solution: Watchman surgery is designed to be a long-term solution to reduce the risk of stroke in people with AFib. The device typically remains in place for the rest of a patient’s life.
What are the risks of Watchman surgery?
Like any medical procedure, Watchman surgery carries some risks, including:
Bleeding: There is a risk of bleeding during or after the procedure because of the catheter insertion.
Infection: There is a possibility of developing an infection around the Watchman device implant site.
Device migration: The Watchman device may shift or move after the procedure, which could require additional surgery.
Blood clots: Although Watchman surgery is designed to prevent blood clots, there is a risk of forming clots around the device.
Overall, Watchman surgery is an effective long-term solution for people with AFib who are at high risk of stroke. By blocking the left atrial appendage, the procedure can significantly decrease the need for blood-thinning medication and prevent blood clots from escaping and causing a stroke. Although Watchman surgery has associated risks, the benefits of the procedure outweigh any potential side effects. If you’re considering Watchman surgery for yourself or a loved one, it’s essential to discuss the pros and cons with a cardiologist or electrophysiologist to determine whether the procedure is suitable for your specific condition.