If you are undergoing a left atrial appendage closure (LAAC) WATCHMAN procedure for stroke prevention, then you will be admitted to the hospital for a short stay. Before the procedure, your medical team will explain the procedure in detail, including how to prepare before you arrive at the hospital and how the WATCHMAN device will be implanted.
Staying in the Hospital
Although LAA closure using the WATCHMAN device is a minimally invasive procedure, the medical team will want to make sure there are no complications. In most cases, you will stay overnight in the hospital following the procedure.
After You Go Home: Care Following the LAA Closure
Your medical team will schedule you for a transesophageal echocardiogram (TEE) test, which checks to make sure the left atrial appendage is completely closed and also rules out the presence of any remaining blood clots. This will generally happen about a month after the procedure. You can learn more about TEE testing here.
You may feel some discomfort in the days and weeks after the procedure. Your doctor will explain which symptoms and side effects are normal. In general, it is normal to have bruising and soreness in the upper leg, around the area where the catheter was inserted.
Some symptoms or side effects are not normal, however. You should contact your doctor immediately if you experience:
- Faintness or dizziness
- Shortness of breath
- Problems around the area in your upper leg where the catheter was implanted: numbness or coldness, severe pain, bleeding, swelling or redness
- Fever that will not go away
Any chest pain or discomfort in the chest is a medical emergency that requires calling 9-1-1 for help.
Medications After LAA Closure
If you have had LAA closure, your doctor will probably require you to take blood-thinner medications for a period of time following the procedure until the medical team is certain that your body is able to tolerate the device. The team will also recommend taking aspirin indefinitely to reduce the risk of blood clots forming anywhere else in the heart and blood vessels.
Activity After LAA Closure
You will be asked not to drive for several days following LAA closure. In addition, your doctor will ask you to avoid intense physical activity or strenuous exercise of any kind for at least three days. Intense activity and strenuous exercise include heavy lifting, climbing stairs, running, riding a bicycle, doing heavy housework or house projects, and engaging in sexual activity.
As always, you will should check with your doctor about your specific exercise program and discuss when it is safe to return to it. In general, it is also a good idea to avoid bending or squatting until your doctor says it is safe.
You may be asked to incorporate some very light exercise into your day for a short time after your LAA closure procedure. This may include short walks (five to 10 minutes) several times per day.
Your doctor may have additional precautions regarding bathing (which can lead to getting the catheter insertion site wet) immediately following the procedure, so be sure to ask.
Returning to Work
Ask your doctor about when you should expect to be able to return to your job, or to any normal activities, such as volunteer work. Your doctor will be able to evaluate your situation based on your physical health, the kind of work you do and other factors.
Remember, LAA Closure Does Not Cure Atrial Fibrillation
Left atrial appendage closure is used to reduce the risk for stroke in people who have atrial fibrillation (Afib or AF); however, LAAC procedures do not stop the irregular heartbeat of Afib from occurring. You doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan for your Afib.
More information about Afib and the ways it can be controlled is available here.
Other Methods of LAA Closure
There are a few methods that doctors can use to accomplish left atrial appendage closure. The WATCHMAN device is one of these. Learn more about other LAAC methods here.
To learn more about atrial fibrillation, including how risk factors can be managed and the options for treatment, click here.
If you are considering a LAA closure procedure, be sure to review the SecondsCount Left Atrial Appendage Closure Center.