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This Implantable 'WATCHMAN' Device Can Help Patients With AFib Get Off Blood Thinners

July 20, 2023

If you have AFib, your doctor has already talked to you about your risk of stroke. For many patients, there’s a go-to solution: blood thinners. But what if that’s not an option for you? An implantable device like the WATCHMAN could be your answer. [insert-cta-small id=50432]

Would the AFib implant work for you?

To start, there are two big questions: Do you have non-valvular AFib? And, according to your health team, are you at a high risk of stroke? Just answering “yes” and “yes” doesn’t mean the implant is your best solution. After all, when it comes to stroke protection, blood thinner medication does the trick for most people. But not everyone. “It’s a conversation between a patient and their doctor,” says interventional cardiologist Bryan Piccirillo, MD, who helped create the AFib implant program at Hartford HealthCare’s Heart & Vascular Institute. Which brings us to our next question. > Related: Can Wearable Tech Like Smartwatches Actually Detect AFib?

Do you need to avoid blood thinners?

Do you have a condition that prevents you from taking blood thinners, like a bleeding disorder or ulcers? Or a lifestyle where you tend to get banged up, and a blood thinner could mean serious bleeding? Here’s where the AFib implant really comes in: stroke protection without a blood thinner. “We’ve helped patients who would still like to remain active in activities that would increase their risk of bleeding, like auto mechanics or people who enjoy extreme skiing,” says Dr. Piccirillo. “We’ve helped patients who couldn’t tolerate a blood thinner because of a history of intracranial hemorrhage.” “By implanting this device,” he says, “we’re able to provide that stroke protection while improving their quality of life.” Want more health news? Text StartHere to 85209 to sign up for text alerts

Implantable devices for AFib include the WATCHMAN — and others.

The WATCHMAN device is probably the best-known AFib implant, but it's not the only option. Everyone’s heart is structured a little differently, which means some patients need another version of the device. If that’s you, your cardiologist will explain the options. For example, Hartford HealthCare is introducing a second AFib device soon. “By bringing a second left atrial appendage device to our practices, we’ll be able to touch even more patients,” says Dr. Piccirillo.

Talk to a cardiologist to see if an AFib implant is right for you.

Recently, demand for the WATCHMAN has skyrocketed. The procedure to place the device, called a left atrial appendage occlusion, uses a thin tube threaded through the leg veins to the heart — no open-heart surgery required. Most patients go home the same day. The device never needs to be replaced. For each procedure, a broad team of experts work together to ensure the patient's safety. “We have a multidisciplinary team of interventional cardiologists, electrophysiologists and structural heart echocardiographers with each procedure,” says Dr. Piccirillo.