WATCHMAN is a permanent device that’s a great option for people who are at risk for serious issues related to using blood thinners.
Experts with Altru’s Structural Heart Clinic performed its first WATCHMAN procedures in March 2019. Our team works together to evaluate and educate each patient who may require WATCHMAN, with the goal of ensuring a successful recovery.
What is WATCHMAN?
WATCHMAN is a device that is implanted into the heart in a one-time procedure, placed through an incision in the leg. WATCHMAN can safely lower a patient’s risk for stroke without a bleeding risk. After patients have the WATCHMAN placed, they may no longer need the regular blood tests and restrictions on food and drink that are often in place with blood thinner use.
Why Is WATCHMAN Implanted?
WATCHMAN is implanted to close off the part of the heart, the left atrial appendage (LAA), where blood clots may form as a result of atrial fibrillation (AFib). If you have AFib, it can affect your heart’s ability to pump blood. In turn, this can cause blood to pool in your LAA, resulting in blood cells sticking together and forming a clot. A stroke can occur if that clot moves through your body and cuts off the blood supply to your brain. Over 90% of clots that result in a stroke form in the LAA in people with AFib that is unrelated to a heart valve problem. By closing off the LAA, the WATCHMAN effectively reduces stroke risk.
What are the Benefits of WATCHMAN?
The primary benefit of implanting WATCHMAN is a reduced risk of stroke and blood clots. Some patients cannot safely take blood thinners, as they also have a high risk of bleeding. Until recently, these patients were left with the options of either not taking blood thinners (thereby increasing their risk of stroke) or taking blood thinners (exposing them to increased risk of bleeding). The WATCHMAN procedure allows patients an alternative to reduce their stroke risk.
Implanting WATCHMAN may offer many other benefits to patients, including:
- Minimally invasive procedure that doesn’t require open-chest surgery
- Requires only one access site (upper leg)
- Faster recovery, with patients often leaving the hospital one day after the procedure
What Happens Before, During and After a WATCHMAN Procedure?
Before the Procedure
- You and your healthcare provider will discuss any medications you are taking. You may have to stop taking certain medications leading up to your procedure.
- You will need to undergo a physical examination and a test known as transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE). A TEE allows your provider to take pictures of your heart to check for blood clots and determine the size of your LAA.
- You may need to refrain from drinking or eating anything for several hours before your procedure. If your doctor has advised you to continue certain medications, you can take these with a small sip of water.
- You will need to identify a loved one who can drive you home the day after your procedure
During the Procedure
- You will be placed under general anesthesia, meaning you will be unconscious throughout the procedure.
- The cardiologist will make a small incision in the upper part of your leg.
- He or she will insert a narrow tube into the incision.
- Your cardiologist will then use the tube to guide the WATCHMAN, which is about the size of a quarter, into the right place. It’s designed to permanently close your LAA off and keep those blood clots from escaping.
After the Procedure
- You will stay in the hospital overnight.
- Your provider may prescribe certain medications to allow the WATCHMAN to form a barrier and prevent blood clots.
- You will undergo an initial follow-up TEE up to 45 days after your procedure to ensure your heart tissue has grown over the implant.
- Your provider will continue to schedule follow-up TEEs based on your individual recovery