What is the WATCHMAN?
WATCHMAN 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 anticoagulants.What’s more, WATCHMAN can eliminate the regular blood tests and food-and-drink restrictions that come with anticoagulants such as warfarin. (Warfarin is also known as Coumadin®.)
In a clinical trial, 9 out of 10 people were able to stop taking warfarin just 45 days after the WATCHMAN procedure.
How does the WATCHMAN work?
To understand how WATCHMAN 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.3,4
In people with AFib not caused by a heart valve problem, more than 90% of stroke-causing clots that come from the heart are formed in the LAA.3 That’s why closing off this part of the heart is an effective way to reduce stroke risk.
The WATCHMAN Implant fits right into your LAA. It’s designed to permanently close it off and keep those blood clots from escaping. WATCHMAN is about the size of a quarter and made from very light and compact materials commonly used in many other medical implants.
What is the WATCHMAN procedure?
WATCHMAN 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, 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 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.
Due to the risk of having a medical procedure, patients should not be considered for WATCHMAN if they are doing well and expect to continue doing well on blood thinners.
What happens after you get a WATCHMAN?
Following the WATCHMAN procedure, you’ll take warfarin (a common blood thinner) 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.
In a clinical trial:
92% of patients were able to stop taking warfarin just 45 days after the procedure
99% of patients were able to stop taking warfarin within 1 year after the procedure