Health: Heart-ening News For A-fib, Heart Failure Patients

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Health

HYANNIS — New help is available for people with certain types of heart problems, thanks to a new treatment for atrial fibrillation and a new clinic for people diagnosed with heart failure, both offered by Cape Cod Healthcare.

Last month, Cape Cod Healthcare announced that a new surgical implant is now available locally for people with a certain type of heart problem, non-valvular atrial fibrillation. The newly approved Watchman Left Atrial Appendage Closure Implant, being offered by Cape Cod Healthcare, can be used to reduce the risk of stroke for certain patients who are seeking an alternative to the drug warfarin.

The implant, which resembles a tiny umbrella, is put in place by cardiac catheter, typically through an incision near the groin. It is put in place in the left atrial appendage, a small pocket of one of the heart's chambers, where blood clots can form in patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation. The implant is expanded and seals off the pocket, reducing the likelihood of clots without the necessity of blood-thinning medications.

Known as the Watchman implant, the device is implanted in a one-time procedure that typically lasts around an hour. Following the procedure, patients usually need to stay in the hospital for 24 hours. The procedure is not without risk, but those risks may outweigh the drawbacks of drugs like warfarin, which can cause uncontrolled bleeding and other problems.

“The new Watchman [Left Atrial Appendage Closure] Implant provides physicians with a breakthrough stroke risk reduction options for patients with non-valvular AF,” said Cape Cod Hospital Cardiologist Peter Friedman, who performs the procedure. For suitable patients, the implant offers a “potentially life-changing stroke risk treatment option which could free them from the challenges of long-term warfarin therapy,” he said.

In the estimated five million Americans with with atrial fibrillation, the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly, known as an arrhythmia. Twenty percent of all strokes occur in patients with a-fib, and strokes related to atrial fibrillation more frequently cause death or disability.

Cape Cod Healthcare is offering new services to people with another serious cardiac diagnosis: heart failure. A new heart failure clinic, located at the Cardiovascular Center in Hyannis, uses a multidisciplinary team to teach patients about their condition, and to help them manage symptoms and maintain the best possible quality of life.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart failure is a serious diagnosis that affects 5.7 million people in the U.S., and happens when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to support other organs in your body. Heart failure is a contributing factor to many deaths, and costs the nation around $30.7 billion each year. Symptoms include shortness of breath when exercising or when lying down, weight gain with swelling in the lower extremities, and unexplained weakness.

The heart failure clinic is overseen by cardiologist Elissa Thompson, and includes a nurse practitioner, a nutritionist, a visiting nurse and a pharmacist, all collaborating to treat and educate patients. Because there is no simple diagnostic test for the condition, the clinic helps patients recognize the symptoms as early as possible, managing them when they appear.

“Our overriding goal is to help keep heart failure patients out of the hospital,” Thompson said. “We want to provide a home base for patients to learn how to live with their illness and have one-stop access to our multidisciplinary team.”

One goal of the team is to reduce risk factors for people with symptoms of heart failure. Those risk factors include smoking, obesity, a diet high in fat, cholesterol and sodium, and not getting enough physical activity.

For information on the heart failure clinic or the Watchman implant for a-fib patients, visit or speak with your primary care physician.