Watchman heart implant can reduce risk of stroke, blood clots

LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A Los Angeles cardiac specialist said a newly approved device may be life changing for many patients with irregular heart rhythms.

The newly FDA-approved Watchman device is a small implant that reduces the risk of stroke and blood clots.

The blood thinner Warfarin is the standard way doctors try to prevent clots and strokes in patients with irregular rhythms, but the Watchman implant stops blood clots where they start. The majority of clots form in a pouch called the left atrial appendage.

When people have atrial fibrillation in the upper chamber of their heart, known as the atrium, it does not pump, but instead it quivers and that is why the appendage fills with blood. It does not squeeze out the blood and that's how clots are formed.

The Watchman is deployed through a vein in the right leg where the pouch is and it plugs the opening.

"Blocking off this pouch is as good as, if not more effective, than taking the blood thinner Warfarin, which is the only other option that many of these patients have," said Dr. Shephal Doshi with the Pacific Heart Institute.

Doshi started the first clinical trial seven years ago. The procedure may not be for everyone with an irregular heartbeat, but it's another option that can be life changing for so many.

"It's important that you get some form of treatment, whether it be blood thinners or something like Watchman. We just can't ignore you because you have such a high risk for stroke," Doshi said.

One of the biggest concerns for patients on blood thinning medication is uncontrolled bleeding. Because of this concern, many a-fib patients are not prescribed drugs long-term.

Medicare covers the Watchman procedure, and now that it's approved Doshi expects private insurers will follow.

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