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WATCHMAN Procedure

The procedure known as the WATCHMAN device; is an implant used to permanently stave off blood clots. The WATCHMAN implant is a way to reduce the risk of stroke without increasing the risk of bleeding. So instead of a lifetime of blood thinners, you can opt for a left atrial appendage treatment in Anderson, SC. 

Who should consider the WATCHMAN implant?

The WATCHMAN procedure is designed for people with atrial fibrillation that is not due to a defect with the heart valve. Non-valvular AFib patients may have this condition due to anything from high blood pressure to thyroid disorders. In some cases, there may not be a clear cause for this type of AFib. 

The WATCHMAN implant is specifically recommended to people who either have a history of bleeding or a higher risk of bleeding on blood thinners. More than 100,000 people across the globe have already opted for it. It's a one-time, minimally invasive procedure that can serve as a permanent answer to ongoing treatment on warfarin. 

While still a new treatment option on the market, the procedure is steadily becoming more and more recognized by both public and private insurance providers. Most notably, it has already been approved for Medicare patients that meet the coverage criteria. You should check with your carrier to see if the WATCHMAN heart procedure Anderson is covered by your policy. 

What are the benefits of the WATCHMAN implant?

Those with AFib are five times more likely to have a stroke compared to those with a regular heartbeat. WATCHMAN is a potentially life-changing procedure that can limit the odds of a stroke for a lifetime. It's the only clinically studied implant that has been approved by the FDA. 

The most significant benefit is that 96% of patients who have received the implant were able to eliminate blood thinners just 45 days after the treatment. Only a very small number of patients will continue to take blood thinners after LAA treatment.

Part of the reason why this procedure is so attractive to patients is due to the inherent limitations of blood thinners. Doctors and researchers have long understood that oral anticoagulants can be difficult to prescribe. Up to 40% of people who are eligible will not take them for a wide variety of reasons.

From dietary restrictions to life-balance concerns, patients struggle with the idea of being constantly tied to this type of therapy. This LAA procedure Anderson can be the steppingstone toward more freedom for people with non-valvular AFib. 

What are the risks of the WATCHMAN procedure?

The WATCHMAN procedure takes every precaution to keep the patient safe. The materials used are soft and flexible, reducing the odds of damage to the heart. However, all medical procedures involve some degree of danger, including death in rare cases. 

Other risks for the WATCHMAN procedure include:

  • AV fistula
  • Blood clots/air bubbles in the lungs
  • GI bleeding
  • Renal failure
  • Stroke
  • Accidental heart puncture 
  • Complications from anesthesia
  • Bleeding in throat from TEE
  • Cranial bleed
  • Hypotension
  • Pneumothorax 
  • Pulmonary edema/vein obstruction 
  • Thrombosis 
  • Transient ischemic attack

Your doctor will tell you more about your specific risk levels and whether the pros of the procedure are worth the cons. As you weigh the options for yourself, it's extremely important to consider how your lifestyle affects your decisions. Warfarin is an effective way to combat stroke, but only if the patient is willing to follow the directions to the letter. 

How to prepare for the WATCHMAN procedure?

Preparations are minimal. Typically, patients are asked to abstain from food or drink after midnight on the day of the procedure. As with any procedure, make sure that the doctor is aware of any medications that you're taking and any allergies you may have. You may be asked to stop taking certain medications prior to the procedure, depending on your specific risk factors. 

What to expect after the WATCHMAN procedure?

The recovery time from a WATCHMAN procedure Anderson is minimal. Patients can typically leave the day afterward (though they are usually not in a position to drive themselves home). You may also be asked to take it easy for a couple of days after the procedure, especially if you're at higher odds of bleeding. 

Most patients will continue to take blood thinners for about a month and a half or until the LAA is entirely closed. After the treatment, the doctor is waiting and monitoring your heart for tissue to develop. You can expect the doctor to take photos of the heart and provide updates about the tissue formation and implant positioning. 

Many patients are also prescribed clopidogrel as their body adjusts to the implant. This is an antiplatelet medication to prevent clots from forming while the tissue is working to seal off the LAA. You will need to follow all directions for blood thinners directly after the procedure to ensure success. After 45 days have passed, you and your doctor can discuss whether to discontinue blood thinner medications. 

Please note that though the WATCHMAN device does contain a metallic frame, you will still be able to go through metal detectors. You may also be able to have MRI scans, depending on the conditions of your procedure and the scanner. 

WATCHMAN implant procedure vs. Blood Thinner Medication 

The WATCHMAN clinical program was composed of numerous studies, involving more than 2,400 patients and many years of follow-up. The meta-analysis of these trials concluded that it provided comparable levels of protection against stroke, including statistically better odds of preventing hemorrhagic, disabling stroke, and cardiovascular death. (Please note that in studies, it was found that warfarin was still slightly better at preventing ischemic stroke.)

Blood thinners have proven to be effective to prevent stroke, but the ongoing need for them can put a patient at more risk over time. With the WATCHMAN implant procedure, patients will usually only require aspirin to control the risk of stroke. 

This treatment was considered a breakthrough for those who wanted to reduce their odds of stroke without signing up for long-term care. The FDA has carefully weighed the safety and efficacy of the WATCHMAN device against warfarin and approved it as a suitable alternative.

This was after clinical studies that proved the bleeding risks of the WATCHMAN were significantly lower than those of warfarin. Unfortunately, many people aren't aware of this available alternative, even as they fear the risks of bleeding or falls from being on thinners. 

How does the WATCHMAN procedure work?

Understanding the WATCHMAN starts with a quick refresher on how AFib works. A person with atrial fibrillation has an irregular heartbeat, one that's caused by a quiver inside one of the chambers. This then affects the blood flow in the vital organ, causing the movement to periodically stop and start again.

If the blood stagnates, it will do so in the left atrial appendage more than 9 times out of 10. This pooling is the most common cause of stroke and occurs in the upper left chamber of the heart. When the blood clots, that clot can become loose and travel straight to the brain. The WATCHMAN stops these clots before they even have a chance to form.

During the WATCHMAN procedure, the doctor will place a balloon-like implant inside the left atrial appendage (LAA). The implant is around the size of a quarter and can expand to fit the appendage. After the implant is inside the body, the body will naturally produce tissue to grow around the implant. It's this tissue that forms a blockage and ensures that the blood cannot pool inside the LAA. It cannot be seen from outside the body and does not have to be replaced. 

The WATCHMAN procedure typically consists of the following steps:

  • The patient will receive a general anesthetic via an IV. 
  • The groin is numbed with a local anesthetic before a catheter containing the WATCHMAN device is inserted into the blood vessel. 
  • The catheter is moved to the upper right chamber of the heart and then eased past the divide into the left chamber. 
  • The device is then pushed through the catheter where it can open up

The WATCHMAN device is flexible and made out of a metallic frame that is covered with a layer of fabric. Many patients will also undergo a transesophageal echocardiography (TEE) imaging test during the procedure so the doctor can verify that the device is in the best position. A TEE test may also occur within two days after the implant. 

Why AnMed Health?

AnMed Health in Anderson, SC has been providing quality healthcare options for more than a century. Our medical staff includes over 400 physicians and 3,600 employees, giving us a wide breadth of experience and knowledge to draw from.

Our resources make it possible to create a comprehensive system in the area for residents of northeast Georgia and upstate South Carolina. Patients count on us to keep up with the latest treatments and to implement those that stand to benefit them. 

We believe the WATCHMAN procedure is a safe alternative for patients who don't want to spend their lives needing blood thinners. If you're looking for a left atrial appendage procedure Anderson, our staff is here to help.