Blood Thinners Are Not the Only Option for Those with Atrial Fibrillation

Author: Lindsey Ulrich


"We now have minimally invasive technology, where we can seal off the left atrial appendage to keep harmful blood clots from forming and entering the blood stream and causing a stroke."

 

People with atrial fibrillation ( AF) who are at high risk for stroke and cannot take blood thinners  may be eligible for a minimally invasive treatment option. McLaren Greater Lansing offers patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (AF) an alternative to longer-term blood thinning medication with the WATCHMAN™ Left Atrial Appendage Closure (LAAC) Implant.

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib or AF, is a heart condition in which the upper chambers of the heart beat too fast and with irregular rhythm that can lead to various heart complications such as blood clots, stroke, and heart failure. Roughly 2.7 million Americans are now living with AF, and that number is expected to rise over the next 10 years. 

“There is a part of the heart in the left upper chamber called the left atrial appendage where blood pooling can occur in patients with AF, increasing the risk of blood clots and stroke,” said Khalil Kanjwal, MD, cardiologist and electrophysiologist at McLaren Greater Lansing.

People with AF are five times more likely to have a stroke. The most common method for reducing stroke risk in patients with AF is treatment with blood thinning medications such as warfarin and other newer agents. For patients who have reason to seek a non-drug alternative, the WATCHMAN™ LAAC implant is a treatment option that can reduce their risk of AF-related stroke.

“There are patients who are not candidates or cannot tolerate being put on blood thinners,” said Dr Kanjwal. “We now have minimally invasive technology, where we can seal off the left atrial appendage to keep harmful blood clots from forming and entering the blood stream and causing a stroke.”  

Implanting the WATCHMAN™ device is a one-time procedure that is performed through a small incision in the groin area, and typically lasts about an hour. Once the device is inserted, the heart will grow tissue around it over time, completely plugging the opening of the left atrial appendage. After the procedure, patients stay in the hospital for 24 hours before being discharged, and four to five days later, can typically resume normal daily activities.

“This procedure is less invasive than other surgical options we’ve had before,” said Dr. Kanjwal. “The recovery time is short, and the risks are lower.”  

Dr. Kanjwal said that people on blood thinners, who think they may have a bleeding issue, should continue to take their medication, but seek advice from their treating physician and discuss other treatment options, including whether they may be a candidate for the WATCHMAN™ LAAC implant.

For more information about the cardiology services at McLaren Greater Lansing, click here.