The Watchman device offers an alternative to the lifelong use of warfarin for people with atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem (also known as non-valvular AFib).
This permanent heart implant effectively reduces the risk of stroke—without the risk of bleeding that can come with the long-term use of warfarin (the most common blood thinner). What’s more, the Watchman device can eliminate the regular blood tests and food-and-drink restrictions that come with warfarin. (Warfarin is also known as Coumadin®.)
How It Works
To understand how the Watchman device works, it helps to know more about the connection between atrial fibrillation and stroke.
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, affects your heart’s ability to pump blood normally. This can cause blood to pool in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage, or LAA. There, blood cells can stick together and form a clot. When a blood clot escapes from the LAA and travels to another part of the body, it can cut off the blood supply to the brain, causing a stroke.
The Watchman device is implanted into your heart in a one-time procedure. It’s a permanent device that doesn’t have to be replaced and can’t be seen outside the body.
To implant Watchman device, your doctor makes a small cut in your upper leg and inserts a narrow tube, as done in a standard stent procedure. Your doctor then guides Watchman device into the left atrial appendage (LAA) of your heart. The procedure is done under general anesthesia and takes about an hour. Patients commonly stay in the hospital overnight and leave the next day.
After the Procedure
Following the procedure, you’ll take warfarin for 45 days or until your LAA is permanently closed off. During this time, heart tissue will grow over the implant to form a barrier against blood clots. Your doctor will monitor this process by taking pictures of your heart to see when you can stop taking warfarin.
Your doctor will then prescribe a medicine called clopidogrel (also known as Plavix) and aspirin for you to take for 6 months. After that, you’ll continue to take aspirin on an ongoing basis. A very small number of patients may need to keep taking blood thinners long term.