TAVR & WATCHMAN at Washington Health System

New Tools in the Fight Against Heart Disease

From aneurysms to heart attack and beyond, all types of heart disease are treated by cardiac surgeons. At Washington Health System, new procedures known as TAVR and WATCHMAN, open the door to less invasive surgical methods and improved outcomes for aortic valve stenosis and atrial fibrillation.

Following years of research and success, these procedures have changed how treatments for these two heart conditions are approached.

A WATCHMAN for Your Heart

The most commonly diagnosed heart arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation (AFib) is associated with more than 175,000 deaths in America annually. AFib occurs when the top and bottom parts of the heart don’t beat in sync. Arrhythmia puts you at increased risk for blood clots that can lead to stroke.

Though some cases of AFib cause no symptoms, others are accompanied by the following:

  • breathing difficulty
  • chest pain
  • erratic, irregular heartbeat
  • fluttering, pounding or rapid heartbeat
  • lightheadedness and fatigue

When AFib causes unwanted symptoms, the first line of treatment is often medication. Blood thinners are prescribed to prevent stroke-inducing clots from forming. Other medications work to slow the rate at which your heart beats to get it back in rhythm.

Unfortunately, medication is not a good option for everyone. People who need an alternate treatment include those who have bleeding problems or cannot safely take medications for long periods of time. For years, these individuals simply lived in fear of stroke. That changes with WATCHMAN.

“WATCHMAN is the only FDA-approved medical device on the market that has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke in AFib patients,” says James Richardson, MD, board-certified Cardiologist and Chief of Cardiology at WHS Washington Hospital.  “It’s a significant advance and excellent alternative to taking blood thinners long-term.”

Available when AFib is not caused by a faulty heart valve, the WATCHMAN device – a small wire mesh tube – gives patients the ability to get back to what they love. Using a catheter (thin, flexible tube), a surgeon implants the device in the left atrial appendage of the heart. This is where stroke-inducing blood clots typically form in AFib patients. Over time, heart cells grow over the WATCHMAN, closing off the area where clots develop. This keeps dangerous clots from escaping the heart and entering the bloodstream where they can cause blockages and possible lead to stroke. Following a one-day hospital stay, patients return home and come in for a single checkup 45 days later.

From the first WATCHMAN device implant procedure at Washington Health System in September 2019, we have seen excellent patient outcomes. Patients are thrilled to overcome their symptoms and constant fear of stroke.

Treating Stenosis with TAVR

When the heart’s aortic valve narrows, it becomes difficult or impossible for the heart to pump an adequate amount of blood to the body. Known as aortic valve stenosis, this condition comes with a host of potential complications.

For some patients, problems present  as sleeping trouble or swollen ankles. But if left untreated, severe cases of aortic valve stenosis can develop and become deadly. Therefore, getting appropriate treatment in a timely manner is vital.

That’s where TAVR (transcatheter aortic valve replacement) comes in. Now offered at Washington Health System, TAVR is an innovative treatment method that replaces faulty aortic valves.

Aortic valve replacement is needed when the following telltale symptoms are experienced:

  • chest pain
  • dizziness without a known cause
  • shortness of breath with exertion

Before TAVR was available, aortic valve replacement always required open-heart surgery. That meant opening the entire chest for the procedure, which resulted in a much longer recovery. While there remains limited need for open-heart surgery techniques, TAVR is an option for many who need aortic valve replacement.

During the TAVR procedure, the surgeon guides the new valve through a thin, flexible tube called a catheter. The valve is placed inside the old valve and left there to regulate blood flow. Once the procedure is completed, the incision sites are closed up and covered with small bandages.

Following a night in the hospital, you’ll typically return home the following day. Most likely, you’ll be prescribed a blood-thinning medication for six months after the procedure and aspirin indefinitely. Two weeks after the procedure, you’re back to your life without restrictions.

“TAVR offers significant benefits in terms of symptomatic relief and improvement of long-term mortality,” says Rehki Varghese, MD, board-certified Cardiologist on staff at Washington Health System. “This treatment gets to the root of the problem for those with aortic valve stenosis, and our patients do extremely well afterward.”

Learn more about other procedures offered at Washington Health System’s Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory.