Watchman implant: A small device makes a big change

If you have atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve problem and you're looking for an alternative to blood thinners, UW Health offer a viable option - the Watchman implant. This may be a great choice for people who cannot take blood thinners long term. (Image: Boston Scientific)


For patients who can’t tolerate blood thinners

If you have atrial fibrillation and cannot take blood thinners long term, your doctor might recommend a left atrial appendage occlusion procedure. UW Health offers the Watchman, a device commonly used for this procedure. The Watchman implant closes off a small part of your heart. This procedure reduces the risk of blood clots and stroke, and makes it safer to come off blood-thinning medication.

This does not compromise your heart function since the left atrial appendage doesn’t help blood move through the heart.


What does a device like the Watchman do?

Atrial fibrillation can cause blood clots, which increase your risk of having a stroke. These clots often form in a small pouch in the heart called the left atrial appendage.

The device is a barrier that blocks off this pouch. This prevents blood clots from entering the bloodstream.

An alternative therapy for atrial fibrillation

At UW Health, we use the Watchman procedure for atrial fibrillation patients who cannot take blood thinners long term because of other health risks. 

Blood thinners prevent blood clots from forming. When you take blood thinners, you increase your risk of heavy bleeding after a cut or fall. You might also experience a low blood cell count, which causes dizziness and fatigue.

The device stops blood clots from getting into the bloodstream without the side effects blood thinners can cause. 

Are you a candidate for the Watchman? 

Studies on left atrial appendage occlusion in patients with atrial fibrillation show that the device provides the same level of safety and effectiveness as blood thinners.

It’s important to know that the Watchman does not:

  • Cure atrial fibrillation

  • Prevent strokes caused by high blood pressure or narrow blood vessels to the brain

  • Reduce the frequency of atrial fibrillation episodes

  • Work for patients with atrial fibrillation caused by heart valve problems 

You should discuss the risks and benefits of the Watchman implant with your heart care team and your family.


What to expect during the Watchman procedure

Before the procedure begins, you meet with your care team to ask any questions.

You get general anesthesia so that you sleep during the procedure. Then your doctor:

  • Makes a small puncture in the groin to access a blood vessel

  • Places the device on a thin, flexible catheter 

  • Threads the catheter through the blood vessel and into your heart’s left atrium 

  • Positions the implant in the left atrial appendage

  • Opens the device like a small umbrella to block off the left atrial appendage

  • Carefully removes the catheter

  • Closes the incision in your groin

The procedure takes about one hour. You spend a night in the hospital and return home the next day. Most patients quickly return to normal activities.

After your surgery you will:

  • Take a blood thinner for 45 days

  • See your heart doctor for follow-up care

  • Receive a transesophageal echocardiogram of your heart around 45 days after your procedure to make sure the device implant is working and the left atrial appendage stays closed. After this, follow-up visits can occur with your nurse by phone.

Patient story

Ready for their next catch

Atrial fibrillation and the need to be on blood thinners to reduce his risk of having a stroke created great concern for Gene and his son and fishing partner Mark. Having the Watchman device implanted sealed off an area of the heart where blood clots can form. The device gave the father/son team reassurance to safely continue competitive fishing tournaments.

Watch Gene's story

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The heart care team at UW Health includes experts in treating atrial fibrillation.


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