The left atrial appendage (LAA) is a small sac in the wall of the top left chamber of the heart. Normally, it fills with blood and empties with each heartbeat. If you have atrial fibrillation, however, your heart may beat too rapidly and irregularly, not giving the left atrium and the LAA time to empty completely. You may feel a pounding in your chest, shortness of breath, chest discomfort, dizziness, or abnormal fatigue.
When blood stays too long in the LAA, clots can form. If they break off and travel through the bloodstream, they can cause a stroke or embolism. A high proportion of all atrial fibrillation-associated strokes result from clots that form in the left atrial appendage. Many patients with atrial fibrillation take blood thinners to prevent clots, but some patients experience unwanted side effects.
Left atrial appendage closure is an alternative to long-term use of blood thinners and other alternative treatment options. For certain patients, left atrial appendage closure can be a good choice to fit their lifestyle. Our cardiologists work with patients to select the right treatment for them.
M Health Fairview cardiologists are known for their innovative approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of complex heart rhythm disorders, including atrial fibrillation. Additionally, in 2016, we established the M Health Atrial Fibrillation Center to provide comprehensive care to our patients at eight locations. Our multidisciplinary team of cardiologists, interventional cardiologists, electrophysiologists, cardiac surgeons, nurses, and other medical specialists are skilled in a variety of medical options to treat patients with atrial fibrillation. These include medical management with blood thinners and anti-arrhythmic medications; ablation, or the disconnection of electrical pathways with radiofrequency; cardioversion, in which an electrical shock is delivered to the heart to disrupt an abnormal rhythm; and left atrial appendage closure to reduce the risk of stroke.
In 2016, the M Health Fairview Heart Care team became one of only two facilities in the Twin Cities to use the Watchman™ device to perform left atrial appendage closure. This device is an umbrella-shaped, self-expanding implant that traps blood clots in the LAA before they exit, thus reducing the risk of stroke. The Watchman device is inserted on a catheter from a vein near the groin and carefully guided to the opening of the LAA to seal it off. Follow-up transesophageal echos confirm that the device is blocking the opening.
Throughout the years, the University of Minnesota has pioneered many advances in heart care. Our physicians have been at the leading edge of technology involving catheters and resynchronization therapy to help both chambers of the heart beat together efficiently.