Treatment of Atrial Fibrillation without Blood Thinners
St. Mark's Hospital now offers a procedure to help reduce the risk of stroke associated with atrial fibrillation and help patients live an active life without blood thinners.
What is atrial fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a condition in the upper chambers of the heart that cause the heart to beat very quickly and out of rhythm.
This condition can cause blood clots in the left atrial appendage (LAA) of the heart.
What are the risks of atrial fibrillation?
One of the primary risks of atrial fibrillation is the formation of blood clots that can then travel to the brain and cause a stroke. This is caused by a decrease in the heart’s pumping efficiency by as much as 30 percent.
Those with untreated atrial fibrillation have a higher risk for stroke. About one-third of patients with atrial fibrillation will have a stroke. Strokes caused by atrial fibrillation are often more damaging
What treatments are available for atrial fibrillation?
Traditionally, blood thinners are one of the primary treatments for atrial fibrillation. These can help reduce blood clots from forming, but also bring with them risks and a change in life style for many patients on blood thinners.
There is now a procedure that offers an alternative to blood thinners.
What is the Left Atrial Appendage Closure (LAAC) procedure?
A left atrial appendage closure procedure is done by implanting a device in the left atrial appendage of the heart. This permanently closes off the small pouch, keeping blood clots from entering the bloodstream.
The device is only the size of a quarter. It is not seen from outside of the body and is made of materials that are common to many medical devices.
What are the benefits to the LAAC procedure?
By closing off the left atrial appendage through the LAAC device, stroke risk is significantly decreased and over-time, patients may be able to stop taking blood thinners.
How is the device implanted?
The device is implanted only once and is usually done under general anesthesia. Like a procedure to place a stent in the heart, a doctor guides the device into your heart through a flexible tube called a catheter. The catheter is inserted through a vein in the upper leg.
Once the device is in place, the doctor releases the implant to leave it permanently fixed in the heart. Patients then stay overnight in the hospital and are usually able to go home the next day. After a few months, most patients are able to stop taking blood thinners.
The best part about the procedure, is it does not require open heart surgery. It also never needs to be replaced.
Who qualifies for the procedure?
Those who are suitable for blood thinners like warfarin could be a candidate for the LAAC procedure. Talk to your doctor to see if you qualify for the procedure.