Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital can now treat atrial fibrillation (AFib) not caused by a heart valve problem with a tiny, permanent implant called the Watchman.


“Atrial fibrillation is an abnormal irregular heart rhythm that is often rapid, originating from the upper chambers of the heart,” said Houston Methodist Baytown cardiac electrophysiologist Dr. Akanibo Da-Wariboko. “It may present without symptoms or cause a sensation of palpitations, chest discomfort, shortness of breath or fatigue. Left unmanaged, it can lead to stroke and heart failure long term.”


The FDA-approved device is an alternative to blood thinning drugs such as warfarin, which are typically prescribed to people who suffer from AFib to prevent strokes. Two patients were successfully implanted at Houston Methodist Baytown Hospital last month.


The Watchman is implanted through a narrow tube that is inserted through a small incision in the patient’s leg and guided to the left atrial appendage. It takes about an hour to implant the device, and most patients will go home the next day. Eventually, heart tissue grows over the device, forming a natural barrier against blood clots.


Research shows that 90% of the stroke-causing blood clots that come from the heart form in the left atrial appendage. The Watchman works by plugging the appendage and preventing blood from pooling and clotting.


“Because of their irregular heartbeat pattern, patients with AFib often experience blood pooling in a pocket of the heart called the left atrial appendage,” said Da-Wariboko. “Over time, that pooled blood can coagulate and cause clots to form. If a blood clot escapes the appendage and moves into an artery, it can eventually block the flow of blood to the brain and cause an ischemic stroke.”


Da-Wariboko says the device is designed for patients who can no longer take blood thinners due to complications, such as people with a history of major bleeding due to the drug’s side effects, or those who are at higher risk of bleeding from an injury due to active lifestyles or hazardous work.


“Although very effective in stroke prevention, oral anticoagulants are not ideal for all patients and carry additive risk over time,” he said. This device is a one-time procedure that provides a lifetime of protection and has been proven to be safe and effective, he added.


Clinical studies show that 99 out of 100 people fitted with the device are able to stop taking a blood thinner one year after the procedure.


For more information on the full range of services offered at Houston Methodist Baytown and to schedule an appointment, visit houstonmethodist.org/baytown or call 281-428-2273.