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Tuesday, Oct. 23, 2018

THE WATCHMAN

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New treatment can reduce the risk of stroke

The risk of having a stroke is a real fear for the millions of Americans suffering from atrial fibrillation (AFib). For those with AFib not caused by a heart valve problem, there is a new, permanent solution called the WATCHMAN that reduces patients’ risk of stroke and can eliminate the use of daily blood thinners.

AFib is a heart condition where the upper chambers of the heart beat too fast and with a chaotic rhythm.

Patients with AFib have a higher risk of stroke because their heart’s pumping efficiency is decreased by as much as 30 percent. This can cause blood to pool in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA). These blood cells can stick together and form a clot and can escape the LAA and travel through the bloodstream to another part of the body such as the brain and result in a stroke. Stroke is the most common and perhaps the most feared complication of AFib.

“In patients with AFib, more than 90 percent of stroke-causing clots that come from the heart are formed in the LAA,” said Dr. Scott Wiggins, a cardiologist at CHRISTUS Shreveport-Bossier Health System. “That’s why closing off this part of the heart is an effective way to prevent embolic stroke.”

The Watchman fits right into the LAA and is designed to permanently close it off to keep those blood clots from forming and escaping and in turn reduces the patient’s risk of stroke, said Dr. Wiggins. This one-time procedure may reduce stroke risk for a lifetime in people with AFib not caused by a heart valve problem.

“At CHRISTUS, our team performed 37 successful Watchman procedures which are tied with one other health system in the state of Louisiana,” said Isaac Palmer, CHRISTUS Shreveport- Bossier Health System chief executive officer. “We are proud to introduce advancements such as the Watchman in the expert hands of our cardiologists and our cath lab team.”

The Watchman is small but has a big impact, and patients have a quick recovery time.

“The Watchman implant is about the size of a quarter, made from very light, compact materials that are biologically compatible with the heart,” said Dr. Wiggins. “The implant does not require a surgical incision and generally takes less than an hour.”

It is inserted through the leg vein, similar to traditional caths and coronary stent placements, and the procedure is performed under general anesthesia with the visual aid of ultrasound and X-ray fluoroscopy, said Dr. Wiggins. The physician inserts a small, narrow tube in the upper leg and then guides the Watchman through the bloodstream into the LAA.

The recovery from the procedure is an overnight stay in the hospital, and patients can expect to get back to full ability within a few days.

The primary benefit from the Watchman is the ability for patients to eliminate taking blood thinners daily. Over 50,000 people have received the Watchman, the only implant of its kind approved by the FDA.

“Over the past two years, CHRISTUS Shreveport-Bossier Health System has expanded our cardiovascular services on the Highland campus with new technology, the latest procedures, higher-trained nursing staff, and expanded facilities focused on cardiovascular patients. We will continue to add more procedures such as the Watchman to better serve our community,” said Palmer.

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