The Watchman Device is a surgical implant that is claimed to be a good alternative to taking anticoagulants for non-valvular arial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation, or A-fib, is a very common cardiac arrythmia. It involves a very irregular heartbeat. And the flow of blood through the heart becomes deranged, which increases the risk of a clot forming, which can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. And for that reason, A-fib patients are placed on strong blood-thinners.  But, that’s risky too. Ironically, if you take blood-thinners to prevent an ischemic stroke, they can actually cause a hemorrhagic stroke.

But, why do people get atrial fib in the first place? Over-stimulation of the heart is one reason. Heavy caffeine consumption is a trigger for it, and sometimes stopping caffeine completely will cause atrial fib to go away. There are a whole slew of things that are considered to be risk factors for A-fib, including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes, lung problems, hyperthyroidism, and more.

But, it’s heartening to know that atrial fib will sometimes go away spontaneously.

Age, itself, is considered a risk factor.  I am 70 years old, and I do not have atrial fib. But, what would I do if I had it?

Obviously, I would be super-diligent about all the lifestyle measures including diet. And there are natural supplements that tend to keep the blood thin, such as Curcumin from turmeric, Vitamin E, and fish oil. The risk of taking these supplements is miniscule compared to taking prescription blood-thinners.

But, if I had atrial fib, I would consider taking a baby aspirin every today because the risk of it is pretty small, so long as it’s just one baby aspirin, which is 81 mg, and it’s buffered, and you take it after a large meal.  And salicylic acid occurs naturally in plants, including vegetables. Whenever you eat a large raw  vegetable salad, you’re getting a very small and highly dispersed dose of salicylic acid.  

So, I might go as far as taking a baby aspirin if I had atrial fib, but I would not take prescription anticoagulants. And if that sounds risky to you, to not take them, just remember that there is a lot of risk in taking them.

 

And because it’s so risky to take anticoagulants, the Watchman Device was developed. And it’s also how it is marketed: just have a one-time procedure done (although it’s no small thing; a heart operation under general anesthesia) and be through taking anticoagulants for life.

But, the Watchman device is just a gimmick. They’re putting an obstructive object in a part of the left atrium called the appendage because it’s a place where blood tends to quit moving, pool, and clot when you have atrial fib.  Then, the idea is that the body is going to react to that foreign object by closing off the appendage, so that blood can’t enter it at all any more.

First, consider how drastic it is to do such a thing. Second, consider that you can still very easily get a clot for other reasons because clots can form elsewhere- not just in the left appendage. And third, if you read the studies that were done, you find out that there were plenty of adverse outcomes, including strokes, among Watchman patients. Some of the trials actually showed more strokes in the Watchman patients. The FDA was so downhearted, they actually rejected the damn thing the first time it was submitted to them for approval.  And even in later studies, there were ones in which the Watchman patients had more ischemic strokes than the controls who were on anticoagulants.  

Finally, they came up with a study that showed a slight reduction in overall stroke risk in Watchman patients compared to anticoagulant patients (1.5% of Watchman patients had strokes over the course of the study compared to 2.2% of anticoagulant patients).  But, it was only because the Watchman patients had much fewer hemorrhagic strokes, which is the big risk in taking anticoagulants.

So basically, Watchman did better because stopping anticoagulants is part of the protocol for it.

I’ll close by pointing out that I’ve known men with atrial fib who managed it with just lifestyle measures and exercise. And none of them has had a stroke so far, that I know of. 

Believe me, I’m glad I don’t have a-fib, and I hope I never get it. And I like to think that the things I do for my general health are helping to prevent it. But, I will tell you very honestly that if I did get it, I would be very content to stick with natural measures including the supplements I mentioned and the eating of all unrefined plant foods because all of them help to keep the blood thin and prevent clots, so that’s fruits, vegetables, raw nuts, whole grains and legumes. And maybe I would add the baby aspirin and maybe I wouldn’t.  But, the point is that not panicking, and not doing anything drastic, is far from being the worst thing that you could do. I’m saying that the attractiveness of medical and surgical options is often and usually exaggerated and greatly exaggerated, and that's true in this case. Remember that Medicine is first, last, and always a business, and like every business, the sale of its products and services is paramount to it. I, for one, cast a cynical eye on their claims and their studies- and especially in an area such as this. I think the Watchman device is much better for the company that makes it and the doctors who sell it than it is for the patients who wind up with it in their hearts. It certainly is not a medial miracle. What it is is a medical gimmick.