KNOXVILLE, TN (SPECIAL TO WLAF) Tennova Healthcare recently became the first hospital in East Tennessee to offer patients with non-valvular atrial fibrillation (AFib) an alternative to long-term blood thinners with the next generation left atrial appendage closure device. The one-time procedure may reduce the risk of stroke in people with AFib not caused by a heart valve problem.

The Tennova Heart team successfully performed its first left atrial appendage closure implant with the new technology on January 18, 2021 at Turkey Creek Medical Center. Since then, an additional six patients have received the FDA-approved device, which has been implanted in more than 100,000 patients worldwide. The newest version of the device has an updated design to help treat more patients safely and effectively. It doesn’t have to be replaced and cannot be seen outside the body.

Heart specialists who perform the procedure at Turkey Creek Medical Center include Yasir Akhtar, M.D., interventional cardiologist; Malcolm Foster, M.D., interventional cardiologist; Rashmi Hottigoudar, M.D., cardiologist/electrophysiologist; and Nilam Patel, M.D., cardiologist/electrophysiologist. The Tennova Heart team first performed the left atrial appendage closure procedure using an earlier version of the technology in 2005.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of heart arrhythmia. An arrhythmia is a problem with the rate or rhythm of the heartbeat. During an arrhythmia, the heart can beat too fast, or too slowly, with an irregular rhythm. An estimated six million Americans are affected by atrial fibrillation—an irregular heartbeat that feels like quivering or “thumping” in the chest. Additional common symptoms of AFib include general fatigue, dizziness, shortness of breath, weakness, sweating, and chest pain.

“This new implant works by closing off an area of the heart called the left atrial appendage, or LAA, to keep harmful blood clots from entering the bloodstream and potentially causing a stroke,” Dr. Foster said. “By sealing the LAA, the risk of stroke may be reduced and, over time, patients may be able to stop taking blood thinners such as warfarin.”

According to the American Heart Association, about 20 percent of all strokes occur in patients with atrial fibrillation. Further, AFib-related strokes are more frequently fatal and disabling. The most common treatment to reduce stroke risk in patients with AFib is blood-thinning warfarin or other anticoagulant medications.

“Despite its proven efficacy, long-term warfarin medication is not well-tolerated by some patients and carries a significant risk for bleeding complications,” Dr. Akhtar said. “Nearly half of all AFib patients eligible for warfarin are currently untreated due to tolerance and adherence issues.”

The implant procedure is performed in the cardiac catheterization laboratory. The procedure takes about one hour, and patients typically stay in the hospital overnight and leave the next day. It is covered for eligible Medicare patients who meet certain criteria as well as an increasing number of commercial insurers.

For more information or to schedule an appointment with a Tennova Heart specialist, call 1-855-TENNOVA (836-6682) or visit (WLAF NEWS PUBLISHED – 03/08/2021-1:30PM)