New cardiac technique treats afib, a risk factor for stroke


UT Health San Antonio physicians recently introduced a new technique to treat atrial fibrillation. This is a common heart rhythm disorder and major risk factor for stroke.

The cardiologists are among the first in Texas trained to implant the Watchman™ left atrial appendage closure device, which is approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration as a therapy for symptomatic, persistent atrial fibrillation.

The interventional cardiology team from UT Health is introducing these procedures at University Hospital and conducts pre-operative and follow-up visits at the Medical Arts & Research Center (MARC), the flagship home of the UT Health physician practice.

Atrial fibrillation (afib) affects around 6 million people in the United States. It is an irregular heartbeat that can result in very life-limiting symptoms for many patients. Although it occurs in both young and old people, the prevalence of afib increases with age. A serious consequence can be a stroke, which is up to 5 times more likely in patients with afib.

The Watchman procedure closes a pouch called the left atrial appendage. “Although the left atrial appendage is a small structure, it is believed to play an important role in the initiation of afib,” said Manoj Panday, M.D., director of cardiac electrophysiology in the Janey and Dolph Briscoe Division of Cardiology at UT Health San Antonio.

The left atrial appendage is the source of up to 90 percent of strokes that are caused by afib. “Patients have to be on lifelong blood thinner to reduce the risk of clots forming in that small area of the heart,” Dr. Panday said.

The Watchman device is delivered via a special catheter. The device is a self-expanding, nickel-titanium frame with an attached woven plastic cap that, when open, looks like a jellyfish. The device is positioned and then expanded to close blood flow to the left atrial appendage. Within six weeks endothelial tissue grows over the device, which remains for life.

“Once implanted successfully, the device eliminates the need for long-term oral anticoagulation, which is especially important for those who are not eligible to have blood thinners,” said Dr. Panday. He has been the head of cardiac electrophysiology at UT Health San Antonio for more than 10 years and is an associate professor of medicine.

“Atrial fibrillation continues to be a very challenging problem to treat,” said Steven R. Bailey, M.D., professor and chief of the Briscoe Division of Cardiology at UT Health San Antonio. “The prevalence of afib is growing, and there is no cure for the disease. However, it is hoped that studying new strategies may result in more effective ways of treating our patients who are struggling with afib. It is our goal to improve the quality of life of our patients and to limit the adverse events related to atrial fibrillation.”

To seek an appointment to determine eligibility for the Watchman technique, call UT Health cardiology at (210) 450-4888 or visit the cardiology website.


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