Stroke Reduction Device Offers Hope to At-Risk AFib Patients on Blood Thinners

Inova Heart and Vascular Institute Among the First to Use Next-Generation WATCHMAN FLX™ Device for Stroke Reduction
closeup of the Watchman device

Inova Heart and Vascular Institute (IHVI) clinicians are among the first in the Washington, DC region to implant a next-generation stroke risk reduction device for patients with atrial fibrillation (AFib). AFib is an irregular heartbeat that affects as many as 2.2 million Americans and increases an individual’s risk of stroke by four to six times on average, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

AFib impacts the heart’s ability to pump blood normally, which can cause blood to pool in an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage (LAA). If a blood clot forms in the LAA, it can travel to the brain, triggering a stroke.

The WATCHMAN™ implant, which has been available at Inova since 2016, is a parachute-like device that fits into the LAA to prevent blood clots from escaping and reaching the brain. The device is about the size of a quarter and is made from light, compact materials that are used in many other kinds of medical implants.

Two doctors holding a sign depicting the new Watchman FLX device
Interventional cardiologist Matthew Sherwood, MD (left) and electrophysiologist Robert McSwain, MD, are two of the five Inova physicians who perform this procedure.

“The recently introduced WATCHMAN FLX™ is the next generation of this FDA-approved device,” said Matthew W. Sherwood, MD, an Inova interventional cardiologist and Co-Director of Inova’s Structural Heart Disease Program. “It offers improvements that make the procedure more efficient, safer and appropriate for more patients. Insertion of the device is a one-time, minimally invasive procedure and typically involves only an overnight hospital stay.”

“This is an excellent therapy to reduce the risk of stroke related to AFib in patients whose AFib is not caused by a heart valve problem and who are unable to tolerate blood thinner medications,” said Adam Strickberger, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist. “The WATCHMAN implant has been a successful therapeutic intervention for patients who struggle with consistent use of blood thinners for a variety of reasons. Some cannot tolerate the medications or have a strong preference against taking anticoagulants. Others have either occupational restrictions or frequent falls that create a long-term bleeding risk. This implant offers a viable alternative, and this latest refinement of the device improves upon what we’ve already been offering our patients.”

To date, Inova’s WATCHMAN implant team has performed more than 250 WATCHMAN cases.

Forty-five days following the procedure, testing is done to confirm the device’s effectiveness. At that point, blood thinner medications can usually be stopped. Clinicians have been able to successfully stop blood thinners in the vast majority of these cases. Patients are placed on antiplatelet medication for a period of time and then transition to only aspirin over the long term.

Those interested in finding out if they are a candidate for a WATCHMAN FLX implant should discuss the procedure with their primary care physician or cardiologist.

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