After years of struggling with mobility, in 2009, Jan Mitchell (now 62) survived the removal of a large tumor from her heart. Unfortunately, this major surgery was just the start of her heart problems as she was soon diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (Afib), an irregular and often rapid heart rate that increases someone’s risk for having a stroke fivefold.
Five million Americans have Afib, and for them, living with the condition and the increased risk of stroke has both a physical and emotional impact.1 Yet, oral anticoagulants (blood thinners) – the most commonly prescribed treatment to reduce the risk of having a stroke – can lead to serious complications, such as bleeding.1 For Jan, complications from taking blood thinners impacted her ability to work and spend time with her family and friends.
When she began to notice issues with her motor control and her ability to think and speak clearly, Jan returned home early from a vacation in New Mexico. Her husband rushed her to the emergency room, and it was determined that her symptoms were actually signs of a bleed in her brain. After her hospital stay, Jan needed a new treatment approach. In consultation with her doctors and with support from her husband, Jan elected for a minimally invasive device called the WATCHMAN™ Left Atrial Appendage Closure Implant. Designed for patients with Afib not associated with heart valve issues, the implant fits into an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage, where blood cells can pool and form a clot. The WATCHMAN implant keeps these blood clots from escaping and cutting off blood supply to the brain, thereby reducing the risk of stroke.
According to a new national survey, 85 percent of people with Afib are unaware of device alternatives available to reduce their risk of stroke beyond oral anticoagulants. The survey, conducted on behalf of StopAfib.org and Boston Scientific Corporation, polled more than 400 people age 45 and older living with Afib. The survey found that 41 percent said they rarely or never discuss the risks of oral anticoagulants with their healthcare provider, and 40 percent wish their physician talked with them more about it.
“I’m so glad that my doctor and I decided on the WATCHMAN implant to manage my Afib,” said Jan. “I no longer have to live with the fear of the risks associated with blood thinners, which is a huge weight off of my shoulders, and I have peace of mind knowing that my stroke risk is reduced.”
Another interesting finding from the survey was that 81 percent of those with Afib wish that there was a treatment as effective at reducing their risk of stroke without the risks associated with oral anticoagulants. Thirty-eight percent of those taking oral anticoagulants said they feel trapped between their fear of having a stroke and their fear of the risks associated with oral anticoagulants.
“The survey results reinforce that being diagnosed with Afib can be life-changing, particularly knowing that it significantly increases the risk of stroke,” said Mellanie True Hills, founder and chief executive officer of StopAfib.org. “The good news is that there are highly effective options for reducing the risk of stroke. My advice for those with Afib is to work with your healthcare providers to identify options that fit your needs and lifestyle.”
If you have a history of serious bleeding while taking blood thinners, have a lifestyle, occupation or condition that puts you at risk for bleeding, or take warfarin and have trouble staying within the recommended blood clotting range, device alternatives may be an option.
The survey is part of the Watch Us Now initiative, which aims to empower people living with Afib to learn about treatment options to help reduce the risk of a stroke. You can visit www.WatchUsNow.com to learn more and view additional results from the survey.
1 “Atrial Fibrillation Fact Sheet.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_atrial_fibrillation.htm