Most patients who suffer from Atrial Fibrillation/Afib or other supraventricular tachycardia are surprised to know that it is not the arrhythmia itself that we are most concerned about but the significantly increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and long-term heart failure. Indeed, because arrhythmias reduce the pumping efficiency of the heart, blood can begin to pool in a small outpouching of the heart known as the left atrial appendage or LAA, for short. Before minimally invasive treatment advances and catheter technology, patients would have to take antiarrhythmic and blood-thinning medications in perpetuity. While often effective, up to 50% of patients on medical therapy experience unacceptable side effects or do not get sufficient relief.
In the spirit of advancement and the treatment of significant potential risk with minimally invasive solutions, electrophysiologists like ours at Nevada Cardiology often use a clever medical device to seal the LAA and dramatically reduce stroke risk. This device, known as the Watchman, looks much like a parachute connected to a metal lattice. The Watchman fits snugly over the opening to the LAA and, over time, creates a strong barrier between the LAA and the rest of the left atrium.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common sustained heart rhythm in the United States, affecting about 3 million Americans. Instead of beating normally, the upper chambers quiver or fibrillate. The upper chambers no longer fill the lower chambers with blood, and heart output can be reduced by 20-40%. During atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers send about 600 impulses a minute down to the lower chambers. While the lower chambers do not beat 600 times a minute, they can still beat very fast and irregularly. Over time, this can cause the important lower pumping chambers to fail. Possibly the worst complication of atrial fibrillation is stroke. When the upper chambers stop contracting, blood can stagnate and form a clot. This clot can break off and go anywhere in the body, including the brain. 75% of strokes associated with atrial fibrillation leave a patient in a nursing home or are fatal.