Atrial fibrillation (AFib) patients have an increased risk of stroke and the new Watchman Device, sometimes called a left ventricle appendage occlusion device, could prove to be one answer to treating those patients. Not every AFib patient qualifies for this procedure, but a significant number of patients will.

Pikeville Medical Center’s (PMC) Electrophysiologist Michael Antimisiaris, MD says the watchman has been shown to be a reasonable alternative to blood thinners for patients who poorly tolerate them.

“Blood thinners are used to prevent stroke in patients with non-valvular fibrillation,” said Dr. Antimisiaris. “These patients represent the majority of strokes we see in people, over 80 especially.”

“Patients who have had bleeding problems in the past and patients who are in professions that are going to put them at high risk for bleeding can present a challenging treatment plan,” said

PMC Electrophysiologist Chase Reynolds, MD. “This new device could work to the advantage of those patients.”

According to Dr. Antimisiaris, about 90% of the stroke-causing blood clots from AFib originate in the atrial appendage.”

Dr. Reynolds says the left atrial appendage is really a remnant from the heart and is not necessary for day-to-day cardiac function.

He says AFib is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.

Patients have often described their AFib experience saying their heart feels like it is doing flip-flops, skipping beats, banging against the chest wall or a really fast heartbeat while other patients had no symptoms at all.

“A severe stroke happens when the clot breaks free and goes to the brain,” said Dr. Reynolds. “That is the basis of the whole stroke risk and the need for these patients to be on blood thinners to prevent strokes.”

He said the watchman device goes thru the femoral vein in the groin and is placed within the left atrial appendage which occludes and prevents a clot from being able to form and break free from that location.

“By occluding this area we completely get rid of the stroke risk, at least in theory,” said Dr. Reynolds.

The Watchman Device is the first of its kind to come to market. With this new technology the FDA is heavily involved. Centers are hand-picked and must be approved by both Boston Scientific and the FDA to perform these implants.

Dr. Antimisiaris and Dr. Reynolds have received training to implant the Watchman Device. This unique procedure is now available for patients at PMC.

For additional information or to schedule an appointment, visit pikevillehospital.org or call 606-218-2201.