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Your Healthy Family: Do you know what AFib is and how it can be deadly?

Posted at 6:03 PM, Sep 27, 2017
and last updated 2018-08-13 22:32:22-04

COLORADO SPRINGS – September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month.  AFib, as it’s also called, is a heart condition that can be hard to detect and have serious consequencesif left untreated.  Dr. Brad Mikaelian, a cardiac electrophysiologist at UCHealth Memorial, explains:

“About 20 to 25 percent of all the strokes each year in the U.S. are due to AFib.  For many people AFib may seem like a pretty benign condition, but it has some really severe implications.”

In very basic terms, AFib is when the electrical signals in the heart trigger rapid and irregular pumping, leading to poor blood flow, blood pooling and possible clotting.

“The vast majority of blood clots that cause strokes in atrial fibrillation come from a little pouch in the heart that everybody has.  It’s called the left atrial appendage, and about 90 to 95 percent of the stroke-causing blood clots come from that pouch.”

Dr. Mikaelian says the treatment options to safeguard people from the hazards of AFib were few.

“Patients historically have taken blood thinners to help prevent blood clots from forming in there.  The problem is that blood thinners can have effects all over the body and can cause bleeding problems in many different ways.”

Starting in August of 2016, a new procedure was introduced at UCHealth Memorial that has been keeping Dr. Mikaelian very busy.

“The Watchman device is an FDA-approved device that is placed through a catheter in a tube, through the vein in your leg, and up to the heart. The device comes folded up in there and then it opens up at the opening of that pouch.  It essentially plugs off the entire pouch.  It’s not a filter; it’s more of a seal or a plug.  It wedges in there, and will stay there permanently. Over time, the heart grows skin tissue or heart tissue over the device to completely seal off that pouch where the blood clots come from.  The Watchmen has been shown to work as well at preventing strokes as blood thinners, and at some point there’s no need to take longterm blood thinners for these patients.”

To date, more than 100 patients have had the watchman procedure at UCHealth Memorial in Colorado Springs.  Dr. Mikaelian says having the procedure available in southern Colorado is helping people across the region.  “Most of the patients have been local, but about 30 percent have been from farther outside of El Paso County, into southern Colorado and we’ve had patients from New Mexico, because we’ve had good outcomes.”

In our next Your Healthy Family report, we’ll tell you just how successful those outcomes have been at Memorial and introduce you to a Colorado Springs man who was the 100th Watchman patient for the UCHealth Memorial Hospital cardiovascular team.