Overview/What It Is
A One-time Procedure Designed to Reduce the Risk of Stroke
The WATCHMAN device is an FDA-approved, permanent implant intended for patients with nonvalvular atrial fibrillation and for those who need an alternative to blood thinners. It may also be recommended for patients with a medical condition, lifestyle or occupation that puts them at risk for major bleeding.
The WATCHMAN is a self-expanding device designed to close the left atrial appendage (LAA) to prevent clots from entering the bloodstream and reduce the risk of stroke. The LAA is a thumb-sized pouch attached to the upper left chamber of the heart. When a patient has atrial fibrillation, the LAA can no longer rhythmically contract, leading to reduced blood flow and blood clots that can travel to the brain, causing a stroke.
In addition to reducing the risk of stroke, the WATCHMAN also reduces the long-term risk of bleeding (unlike blood thinners, which may increase the risk of bleeding and bruising and restrict participation in activities such as contact sports).
Loyola’s cardiology & heart surgery program is nationally recognized for the diagnosis and treatment of heart rhythm conditions, ranked among the nation's top 50 heart programs on the 2020-21 "Best Hospitals" list by U.S. News & World Report. Loyola’s multidisciplinary team of leading cardiac electrophysiologists, cardiologists, advanced practice nurses, technical staff, imaging experts and other professionals allow Loyola to tailor therapy to each patient to reduce risks of future heart issues, eliminate symptoms and improve overall quality of life.
What to Expect
What to Expect with the WATCHMAN Implant
In this procedure, the WATCHMAN device is implanted percutaneously (through the skin) in Loyola’s electrophysiology (EP) lab. The implant procedure does not require surgery; however, general anesthesia may be used. A catheter sheath is inserted into a vein near the groin and guided across the septum (muscular wall that divides the right and left sides of the heart) to the opening of the LAA. The device is placed in the opening of the LAA.
Once the WATCHMAN is in place, a thin layer of tissue grows over it in about 45 days. This keeps blood clots in the LAA from entering the bloodstream. The patient will take a blood thinner after the procedure until the LAA is permanently closed off.
Risks of the WATCHMAN Implant
The risks of any implant procedure include infection, bleeding, allergic reactions and reactions to anesthesia. Other, more rare, risks include:
- Damage to leg vessels - Because the procedure involves inserting a catheter into the leg vessels, there is a small risk of damage to this area.
- Pericardial effusion, or tears in heart structure
- Embolization – The WATCHMAN device becomes loose and unattached from where it was implanted.