Drug Free Stroke Prevention

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - MSA new device is helping some patients with a high stroke risk to live without medications.  A strong heart beat is a sign of good health, but if your heart beats too fast, especially if you're older, it can increase your risk of suffering a stroke. It's a problem for more than three million Americans, and blood thinners are typically the solution. But now, doctors are studying a drug free option, with promising results.

That's good news for 72 year old Bill Gorman.  He's not ready to slow down but he was scared he might have to when he was diagnosed with atrial fibrillation -- an irregular heart beat. "I thought, 'Oh my goodness. What's going to happen to me?'"

The condition can cause blood clots in a pouch attached to the left atrium that may lead to stroke. Dr. James Irwin, co director of the Advanced Center for Atrial Fibrillation at St. Joseph's Hospital Heart Center in Tampa Florida, says it's more common than many people realize. "It's estimated that 40 percent of strokes in elderly patients are because of atrial fibrillation."

Blood thinners like Coumadin are often prescribed but require constant monitoring. Too little increases the chance of stroke. Too much can cause bleeding. Dr. Irwin says, "It makes day to day life very difficult and potentially dangerous."

A new device may free some patients from those drugs. A fabric-covered metal cage is threaded through a catheter in the groin into the heart. It blocks the pouch where the clot could form.  Dr, Irwin explains that "Over time, scar tissue will form over that Watchman, completely excluding that left atrial appendage from the rest of the atrium."

In a trial, the device reduced the risk of stroke and death by more than 30-percent. 87-percent of patients stopped using blood thinners. Bill was one of them. He says he doesn't regret it at all. "It feels wonderful to be off of Coumadin."

Statistics show half of people over 75 have experienced irregular heartbeat from atrial fibrillation.   The stroke-prevention device has been recommended for approval by an F-D-A panel, but official approval is still pending.