Better Than Blood Thinners: Watchman™ Device Reduces Stroke Risk in AFib Patients

Do you have atrial fibrillation (AFib)? Not a good candidate for blood thinners? Talk to your doctor about Watchman™. It’s a life-changing device that can  significantly reduce your risk of stroke.

“Blood thinners can be difficult to regulate,” said CHI Health Cardiac Electrophysiologist Stephen Ackerman, MD.

“Sometimes people don’t feel good when they take them. They can have side effects from the drugs, bruise easily or bleed easily, which is particularly problematic for patients with high-risk professions or hobbies like construction workers or motorcyclists.”

Millions of people in the U.S. live with AFib and take blood thinners to decrease their chance of a stroke. For five years, Dr. Ackerman and the CHI Health heart team have been implanting the Watchman™ device in patients with AFib, who are at an increased risk of stroke due to clotting in the left atrial appendage, which is a small chamber in the top part of your heart.

“The appendage is an outpouching off of the top chamber of the heart, much like an outpouching off of a river,” said Dr. Ackerman. “The flow slows down in that area and blood will clot there when it slows. Once the Watchman™ is inserted into the appendage, then the body heals over it and closes the appendage off, preventing clots from forming,” Dr. Ackerman said.

This procedure is minimally invasive and takes about an hour under general anesthesia. Most patients go home the next day and if the healing process is on track, can stop taking blood thinners in six weeks.

CHI Health was one of the first hospital systems to offer the Watchman™ procedure and helped initiate its FDA approval by participating in clinical trials as early as 2005. To date, CHI Health Nebraska Heart and CHI Health Creighton University Medical Center - Bergan Mercy have implanted 400 of these devices – more than any other hospital system in the state.

“The more procedures you do, the better you are,” Dr. Ackerman said. “Your success rate is higher and complications are lower.”

Learn more about Watchman.

Clinical Trial Studies Watchman™ for High-Risk Patients

Starting in January 2020, CHI Health began a new clinical research trial designed to determine if the Watchman™ device is a reasonable alternative for high-risk patients with AFib who are on blood thinners and have undergone ablation.

The results could benefit many more people living with atrial fibrillation in the future.

“I think it’s huge,” Dr. Ackerman said. “Just not having to take blood thinners, would mean so much to so many! A lot of these people live in fear that they could almost bleed to death with blood thinners, so it’s a really big deal for them.”