Watchman Device Succeeds in Stroke Prevention
The fifth leading cause of death in the United States, stroke, can occur at any time and any age. The Centers for Disease Control reports that every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. suffers a stroke with more than 50 percent of victims ages 65 and older sustaining lifelong disability as a result. Because the majority of strokes are ischemic strokes, meaning they are caused by blood clots that prevent proper blood flow to the brain, individuals at risk have been treated with blood thinners. Now, physicians have a promising alternative that offers hope for improved stroke prevention.
What is the Watchman?
Designed for use in patients with a history of non-valvular atrial fibrillation who cannot tolerate long-term blood thinners, the Watchman is an implantable, permanent device placed in the heart. Cardiovascular surgeons implant the Watchman into the left atrial appendage (LAA) through a simple procedure that lasts about an hour. The LAA is targeted by the Watchman because 9 in 10 strokes that occur in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation are caused by stroke-causing clots that form in this region. By blocking off the LAA with the Watchman, doctors have been able to seal off the primary culprit of disabling strokes.
Why is it Needed?
The Watchman device was created for patients who need a safer alternative to blood thinners. People who are doing well with anticoagulant medication, like Warfarin, are not ideal candidates for the Watchman. However, there are many patients for whom blood thinners are not recommended. For example, individuals in industries that pose higher than average injury risk should not take blood thinners. Similarly, people at risk for falling, such as those with movement disorders or senior citizens, should not take blood thinners due to bleeding risk. The Watchman eliminates the bleeding risks otherwise associated with Warfarin.
Advantages Over Warfarin
Until now, blood thinners have been the only option for patients at risk of stroke, but long-term use of anticoagulants may produce consequences. In addition to bleeding risks, Warfarin use can lead to partial or total resistance. Individuals who become resistant to Warfarin do not experience the same blood thinning benefits as others even when prescribed the maximum dose. Additionally, the Watchman is a better option because:
- 99 percent of patients no longer have to take blood thinners for life
- A one-time procedure provides permanent results
- Reduces or eliminates the need for blood tests and dietary restrictions associated with blood thinner treatments
Additionally, patients who have difficulty maintaining compliance with anticoagulant regimens or those who are already on medications that increase bleeding risk may be good candidates for the Watchman.
A Life-Changing Device
Patients are already praising the Watchman and the physicians who created it after experiencing an improved quality of life. A 74-year-old Connecticut resident, Russell Bonaccorso, was on a blood-thinner treatment for more than a decade before receiving the Watchman. During this time, he experienced episodes of life-threatening internal bleeding, which required immediate medical intervention and hospitalization. At times, he would lose so much blood that his vision would rapidly decline. Even when he wasn’t experiencing a medical emergency, he was constantly afraid of falling or cutting himself because of the bleeding risks.
Since the Watchman was implanted, Bonaccorso has been able to enjoy a life without side effects, he and feels like he is 30 years younger. To his surprise, he felt well enough to return to work after being retired for five years. Bonaccorso is now able to enjoy normal activities and has regained his independence.
Technology Fuels Stroke Prevention Efforts
The Watchman is one example of how technology is being used to tackle complex medical concerns. Long-term research being conducted on the Watchman has thus far revealed positive results during five-year follow up. Like the pacemaker, the Watchman may become a go-to prevention method for at-risk patients in the future.
If you have any questions about the Watchman or any other cardiovascular-related technology, feel free to contact us at 770-962-0399 or visit us online today.