In addition to affecting heart rhythm, atrial fibrillation (AFib) and atrial flutter also increase a person’s risk of stroke. The irregular heartbeat makes it hard for blood to properly circulate through the heart. Blood that does not circulate can pool, which increases the risk of clot formation. Blood clots are most likely to form in the left atrial appendage, a small sac located in the muscle in the heart’s left atrium.
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To reduce the risk of clotting, many people with AFib and atrial flutter are prescribed blood-thinning medications called anticoagulants. The side effects of these medications include excessive bleeding.
If you cannot tolerate these side effects, cardiac electrophysiologists at the Heart Rhythm Center may recommend a left atrial appendage occlusion device, one of which is referred to by the brand name Watchman™. There are also several new devices currently in clinical trials. These devices seal off the appendage, stopping blood from entering and reducing the risk of blood clots.
In this procedure, your doctor uses transesophageal echocardiography to guide the placement of the occlusion device to the left atrial appendage and ensure its proper placement. The procedure takes less than an hour and may require an overnight stay in the hospital. Afterward, you must lie flat for up to four hours, but you are able to eat and drink during this time.
Our experts recommend that someone drive you home the day after the procedure, because the medications you received may leave you feeling unsteady. Please avoid alcohol and sleep aids for an additional 24 hours, as you recover. You should also wait a week before resuming strenuous activities, such as jogging or heavy lifting.
Your follow-up visit takes place 45 days after the procedure. A transesophageal echocardiogram, which provides detailed images of the heart and the left atrial appendage, is performed. Because the left atrial appendage occlusion device reduces your risk of stroke, your doctor may determine that you can stop anticoagulant therapy.
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