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OhioHealth Begins Using New Device to Prevent Strokes in Patients with Atrial Fibrillation

Recently FDA-approved implant gives patients alternative to “blood-thinning” medications

COLUMBUS, OHIO – OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital became the first in central Ohio to implant a new device, recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration, aimed at preventing strokes in patients at high risk due to an irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation.

The Watchman™ Left Atrial Appendage Closure Implant from Boston Scientific Corporation reduces the risk of stroke in people with atrial fibrillation by closing off the left atrial appendage where blood can pool and thicken into a stroke-causing clot.

Nearly 4 million Americans have atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat in which the upper chambers of the heart flutter instead of beat. The inefficient pumping can allow blood to pool and form clots in the left atrial appendage – a small pouch on the wall of the heart. A stroke can occur if the clot breaks off and becomes lodged in an artery in the brain. People with atrial fibrillation are five times more likely to have a stroke than people without the condition.

“Ninety percent of all strokes among people with atrial fibrillation come from blood clots that originate in the left atrial appendage,” said Steven J. Yakubov, MD, chief of OhioHealth’s Structural Heart program, who performed the hospital’s first Watchman procedure July 9 alongside James M. Kleman, MD, electrophysiologist at OhioHealth Heart and Vascular Physicians. “This device closes off the pouch so clots cannot form. It no longer requires patients to take blood thinners, allowing them to avoid all those bleeding complications.”

The Watchman implant is a tiny, expandable umbrella that is guided to the heart and into the appendage through a flexible catheter inserted in the femoral vein in the upper leg. It does not require surgery.

Blood-thinning warfarin medication has been standard therapy for decreasing stroke risk among the atrial fibrillation population, but these medications are not always well tolerated, require monthly blood testing and come with many complications, such as severe bleeding.

“A lot of people can benefit from this,” said Dr. Yakubov. “Only half of the four million people with atrial fibrillation are taking blood thinners due to the concern over bleeding. That is a major limitation of treatment with anticoagulants, even though they prevent strokes.”

Riverside Methodist has been participating in clinical trials of the Watchman since 2005 with “no significant contraindications of its use,” Dr. Yakubov said. “The trials have shown that the Watchman decreases the risk of stroke as much if not more than Coumadin, and avoids the bleeding complications of Coumadin and other anticoagulant medications. Patient typically go home after a day or two in the hospital.”

About OhioHealth

OhioHealth is a nationally recognized, not-for-profit, charitable, healthcare organization with Methodist roots. Based in Columbus, Ohio, OhioHealth is currently recognized as one of the top five large health systems in America by Truven Health Analytics, an honor it has received six times. It is also recognized by FORTUNE Magazine as one of the “100 Best Companies to Work For” and has been for nine years in a row, 2007-2015.

Serving its communities since 1891, it is a family of 28,000 associates, physicians and volunteers, and a network of 11 hospitals, 50+ ambulatory sites, hospice, home-health, medical equipment and other health services spanning a 40-county area.

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