The Medical Center at Bowling Green is now offering a procedure that helps prevent blood clots and strokes in patients with atrial fibrillation – while also offering an alternative to a lifetime of medications.
When a person has an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation, or AFib, the heart isn’t contracting or pumping blood in a normal pattern. Blood can collect and clot in the left atrial appendage, which can cause a stroke. To prevent clots, a tiny umbrella-like device called a WATCHMAN closes the left atrial appendage.
For some time, blood thinners were the best available option to prevent blood clots, strokes or other related complications. But traditional anticoagulants, such as warfarin, increase patient risk for bleeding.
So, for people with conditions predisposing them to bleeding risks, the WATCHMAN is a better alternative, according to Deepak Gaba, a cardiologist at The Medical Center at Bowling Green who now performs the procedure.
“The WATCHMAN implant is a very important and new option for certain patients,” Gaba said.
Each week, Gaba sees about 10 patients newly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. Most patients are between the ages of 60 and 80 and often have long-standing high blood pressure, uncontrolled diabetes, sleep apnea, excess weight, congestive heart failure or valvular conditions such as narrowing of the heart valves or leaky heart valves, Gaba said.
“It’s the most common rhythm disturbance across the world. Among cardiac conditions, it’s an extremely common reason for hospital admission,” Gaba said.
From a cardiovascular standpoint, congestive heart failure, heart attacks and strokes are the leading causes of morbidity and mortality. Strokes are the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Strokes stemming from AFib are more drastic and limit patients’ quality of life. The heart rhythm disturbance accounts for about 25 to 30 percent of the strokes in the region, Gaba said.
In October, Gaba collaborated with other physicians, nurses, administrative personnel and cardiovascular health care professionals to begin the process of bringing the procedure to The Medical Center. Gaba, along with other electrophysiologists and interventional cardiologists, received specialized training to perform the procedure.
Gaba also met with neurologists, anesthesiologists, gastroenterologists, internists and other collaborating physicians that regularly see patients who would benefit from the procedure.
For the past three months, the cardiology specialists have been performing the procedure. Thus far, each follow-up echocardiogram with the patients who received the implant has shown the correct area of the heart has been sealed.
“Fortunately, all of our follow-ups have indicated good results,” Gaba said. “We’re successfully been able to get patients off their potent blood thinners.”