New hope for ‘untreatable’ heart patients

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Abnormal heart rhythm can be hard to treat in some patients, those with an intolerance to blood thinners - used to reduce the risk of stroke - are often considered 'untreatable' by conventional means.

However, Sydney's St George Private Hospital is offering a new treatment option to counter the condition, which is also known as atrial fibrillation (AF).

By inserting a device into the patient's heart, the technique prevents harmful blood clots from travelling to the brain and causing strokes – and does so without the need for invasive open surgery.

“The Watchman procedure is very different to taking long-term anticoagulants,” said Dr Sean Gomes, the first cardiologist to perform this procedure at St George Private.

“For many AF patients, anticoagulant medications aren’t an option because of the intolerable side-effects. This is a great alternate for patients who are at a high risk of stroke but aren’t on medication,” he added.

AF can increase the risk of stroke by six times, but the blood thinners used to treat it – such as Warfarin – can cause bleeding problems in the bowel or stomach, especially for the elderly, Dr Gomes said.

The Watchman device closes the heart's left atrial appendage, the area where most AF-caused clotting occurs. In clinical trials it has performed as well as warfarin, St George Private says.

Patients go under general anaesthetic for the one-and-half-hour operation, and stay in hospital overnight. The device is inserted into the heart via a catheter fed up a vein from the groin, using video X-ray and ultrasound guidance.

For more information, visit the St George Private Hospital website.

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