Cardiologists at Orlando Health ORMC mark milestone for WATCHMAN implant to reduce risk of stroke for patients with atrial fibrillation.
Orlando – The Atrial Fibrillation Program Team at Orlando Health Orlando Regional Medical Center recently implanted their 200th WATCHMAN device to reduce stroke risk in patients who have atrial fibrillation.
A minimally invasive procedure, the WATCHMAN technology is a one-time treatment to place a permanent device inside the heart. The technology is an alternative to the use of blood thinners for patients with atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem.
“WATCHMAN technology is one of the major advancements in the past two decades for patients with arrhythmias,” said Aurelio Duran, M.D., electrophysiologist, Orlando Health Heart & Vascular Institute. “Blood thinners to prevent stroke for patients with atrial fibrillation is one of the most illustrative examples of a clinical challenge that requires balancing the risk of treatment against the risk of disease. WATCHMAN eliminates it as the risk for patients. It is very gratifying to be part of a program that offers this option to patients.”
About the size of a quarter, the device works by sealing off the left atrial appendage in the heart, which prevents harmful blood clots from entering the blood stream to the brain, potentially causing a stroke. The device is implanted using the same process of a stent – a narrow tube inserted through a small incision in the upper leg, guided to the heart by the cardiologist.
The procedure takes about an hour and typically patients stay in the hospital overnight and leave the next day. Recovery time is a little more than a week. Most patients can discontinue blood thinners after 45 days.
Patients with atrial fibrillation are at higher risk for stroke and are often prescribed blood thinners to help decrease the risk of clots forming in the heart. While blood thinners help prevent clots, they also increase the bleeding risk. Risks include gastrointestinal tract and neurological bleeding, and bleeding injuries from falls, motor vehicle crashes or other traumatic incidents. In addition, medication allergies and long-term use of blood thinners may cause medical concerns.
“The technology allows patients to lead a more normal and active lifestyle while being protected,” said Roland Filart, M.D., electrophysiologist, Orlando Health Heart & Vascular Institute. “Patients no longer walk on eggshells for fear of falling and suffering a head injury or hip fracture. We hear feedback from patients about their excitement to finally be able to do things they enjoy, like mountain climbing or playing tennis, or the liberation of no longer being homebound. It gives patients freedom to not fear.”
Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common types of irregular heart rhythm conditions. Atrial fibrillation occurs when the chambers of the heart do not function properly and cause the heart to beat too slow, too fast, or irregularly. Some people have atrial fibrillation and don’t know it because they don’t have symptoms. Some may have symptoms including irregular heartbeat, heart palpitations, lightheadedness, and extreme fatigue. More than three million Americans are currently living with atrial fibrillation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate 12.1 million people in the United states will have atrial fibrillation in 2030. The CDC also says the condition causes about one in seven strokes.
“Because many patients with atrial fibrillation are at high risk for stroke and high risk for bleeding, it puts them in a catch-22,” said Mark Steiner, M.D., interventional cardiologist, Orlando Health Heart & Vascular Institute. “WATCHMAN gives patients a non-pharmacological solution that provides the same risk reduction as if they were taking a blood thinner, but without the concern for bleeding risks. Part of providing excellent outcomes through advanced treatment of atrial fibrillation is also optimizing those treatments by providing options to help our patients avoid catastrophic outcomes like stroke that can be fatal or have lifetime impacts.”
Driven by the importance of stroke prevention for patients, the Atrial Fibrillation Program Team began offering WATCHMAN in 2017. The team of non-invasive cardiologists, anesthesiologists
interventional cardiologists, electrophysiologists, a WATCHMAN program coordinator, nurses, and other healthcare specialists, collaborate to ensure quality outcomes for patients.