New Procedure Reduces Stroke Risk Caused by Abnormal Heart Rhythm Without Blood Thinners

April 21, 2015
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DETROIT – Cardiologists at Henry Ford Hospital have implanted a device that reduces the risk of stroke in patients with an irregular heartbeat.

With only handful of hospitals in the Midwest offering this procedure, Henry Ford is able to add another option to its arsenal of tools for certain patients with atrial fibrillation, which affects the heart’s ability to pump.

“This is a first in Detroit and first-ever commercial Watchman implant at a non-clinical trial site,” says cardiologist Claudio Schuger, M.D., Henry Ford Section Head of Cardiac Electrophysiology.

“This is an excellent alternative now available at Henry Ford Hospital to Michigan patients. We have extensive experience treating atrial fibrillation, so we are very excited about this newest development,” says Dr.Schuger.

The Watchman device, recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, is designed for atrial fibrillation patients who cannot tolerate blood thinners for long term due to increased risk of bleeding complications.

The procedure was performed on two patients last week. Along with Dr. Schuger were cardiologists Arfaat Khan, M.D.; Gurjit Singh, M.D., and Sachin Parikh, M.D.

Robert Click, 59, of Highland Park, has been dealing with an irregular heartbeat nearly his entire life. He started using blood thinners last October, then suffered a brain bleed in December. Doctors, worried because he was a past stroke victim, inserted the device. Now Click can stop taking the blood thinners in about 45 days – and finally go home.

“I’m looking forward to fishing for silver bass along the Detroit River,” says Click.

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Air Force veteran David Harwood, 72, of Brownstown Township, has been taking blood thinners for 20 years after a stress test detected his atrial fibrillation. The retired city of Southgate Recreation Department worker received the Watchman device after he developed gastro-intestinal bleeding in November 2014.

“I think it’s great if I can stop taking any of the medication,” says Harwood, who also takes medicine for diabetes and high cholesterol.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia, currently affecting more than five million Americans. Researchers believe 20 percent of all strokes occur in patients with atrial fibrillation.

Symptoms include irregular and rapid heartbeat; heart palpitations or rapid thumping inside the chest; dizziness, sweating and chest pain or pressure; shortness of breath or anxiety; tiring more easily when exercising, and fainting. Cardiologists typically diagnose atrial fibrillation with an electrocardiogram (ECG) and use various drugs including blood thinners to treat the condition.

The condition – misfiring by the electrical impulses in the upper chambers of the heart – affects how the heart beats and the flow of blood through the body. Due to the irregular and chaotic rhythm, blood can pool, forming clots in a small outpouching of the heart called the left atrial appendage. That raises the risk of stroke five times higher in people with atrial fibrillation, according to the American Heart Association.

The most common treatment to reduce stroke risk in patients with AF is blood thinners. Despite the proven efficacy, long-term use of blood thinners is not well-tolerated by some patients and carries a significant risk for bleeding complications. Researchers say nearly half of AF patients eligible for blood thinners are currently untreated due to tolerance and adherence issues.

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The newly approved device – the Watchman Left Atrial Appendage Closure - closes off the left atrial appendage, dramatically reducing the risk of stroke and alleviating the need for blood thinners.

Implanting the Watchman device takes about one hour. Doctors insert a catheter through a leg vein and into the heart, then open the Watchman device to seal off the left atrial appendage sack. Following the procedure, patients typically need to stay in the hospital for 24 hours. Most patients will be able to discontinue the use of blood thinners after 45 days.

The Watchman device, developed by Boston Scientific, is approved by medical boards in more than 70 countries and has been approved in Europe since 2005. Cardiologists have implanted the device in more than 10,000 patients around the world.

The procedure makes Henry Ford one of the few Midwest hospitals that offer both the Watchman and the LARIAT procedure options, each alternatives for those with atrial fibrillation who are at risk of stroke but who cannot tolerate blood thinners. In the LARIAT procedure, cardiologists cinch off the left atrial appendage instead of blocking it off with the Watchman device.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call 313-916-2417 or visit Henry Ford Heart.

Contact:
Tammy Battaglia
Tammy.Battaglia@hfhs.org
(248) 881-0809