By: Suneet Mittal, M.D., Director, Electrophysiology, The Valley Hospital, and Medical Director, Snyder Center for Comprehensive Atrial Fibrillation.

Did you know that more than 3 million Americans are affected by atrial fibrillation? Atrial fibrillation, which is also referred to as AF or AFib, is the most common irregular or abnormal heart rhythm disorder. It decreases the heart’s pumping ability and can make the heart work less efficiently. In addition, patients must be aware that AFib can lead to potentially life-threatening problems such as blood clots and a higher risk of stroke.

The first step in effectively minimizing the risk of blood clots and strokes caused by AFib is to identify those patients at high risk for a stroke. These high-risk patients are often treated successfully with anticoagulant medications. However, some patients cannot take these medications long term due to side effects—most commonly bleeding—or because they interfere with their lifestyle. That’s where the WATCHMAN™ Device comes in.

The WATCHMAN™ Device is the first proven non-pharmacologic alternative to reduce stroke risk for patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation without the use of anticoagulants. The device, which is a tiny umbrella-shaped mesh tool, is implanted in the heart to close off the left atrial appendage—which is the site where harmful blood clots most commonly form. The WATCHMAN™ prevents these clots from entering the bloodstream, traveling to the brain and causing a stroke, without the bleeding risks that come with anticoagulant medications. Implanting the device is a minimally-invasive procedure performed under general anesthesia and it only requires 24 hours for recovery.

In my opinion, any patient with AFib who is at high risk for stroke but who is no longer on a blood thinner should be evaluated to see if she or he is a candidate for the placement of a WATCHMAN implant.

At Valley’s Snyder Center for Comprehensive Atrial Fibrillation, patients receive individualized care from a multispecialty team in a setting that emphasizes comprehensive patient evaluation and follow-up. The team comprises electrophysiologists and specialists in imaging, cardiology, pulmonology, nutrition, diabetes education and stress management. Navigators and coordinators guide patients through the entire care continuum.

With the most sophisticated technology available in the field, Valley electrophysiologists take great pride in offering a full-range of the most effective treatments for a broad range of heart rhythm abnormalities.

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