Who should take blood thinners?

Strokes are scary because they can occur in anyone at any time.

In fact, more than 795,000 Americans have a stroke each year, with 130,000 people dying as a result, according to the Centers for Disease Control. That’s one American dying from stroke every four minutes. 

Dr. Michael Chisner
Dr. Michael Chisner

Having atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter is the most powerful and treatable heart risk factor of stroke. Patients with these heart conditions are at a higher risk for stroke than the general population. In addition to having one of these rhythm problems, other factors such as age, sex, and certain medical conditions increase the risk for stroke.

Read: What causes Atrial Fibrillation?

Normal heart function becomes disorganized in patients with AFib. Because the contraction of the atria and the ventricles is no longer coordinated, the amount of blood pumped out to the body varies with each heartbeat. When your blood doesn't flow properly, blood clots can form. 

Patients with AFib, congenital heart defects or have had heart valve surgery may have to take a blood thinner to help prevent blood clots.

Blood thinners reduce the risk of stroke by reducing the formation of blood clots in your arteries and veins. Patients should not be fooled by the term blood thinner, however, advises Dr. Michael Chisner, cardiologist and electrophysiologist with Cardiology Associates of Savannah and the Advanced Heart Rhythm Center at St. Joseph’s/Candler. Blood thinners do not make the blood thinner or watery. 

Read: Understanding Atrial Fibrillation and its misconceptions

There are two main types of blood thinners. Anticoagulants, such as warfarin, work on chemical reactions in your body to lengthen the time it takes to form a blood clot. Antiplatelet drugs, such as aspirin, prevent blood cells called platelets from clumping together to form a clot.

It is important a patient strictly follows a blood thinner regiment as prescribed by a physician. Any concerns should be addressed with the physician rather than a patient completely stopping use of a blood thinner.

Alternative to blood thinners

There is an alternative for patients who are unable to tolerate blood thinners. The Watchman is a minimally-invasive device that prevents the formation of blood clots and drastically reduces the risk of stroke.  

The Watchman is about the size of a quarter and shaped like an umbrella. A cardiologist snakes The Watchman on a catheter through a small hole in the patient’s leg and up through a vein in the heart. The Watchman is then expanded, sealing off the left atrial appendage. This prevents clots from forming and breaking loose to the brain, lungs or other parts of the body. The tissue in the heart eventually seals over the device allowing for the safe discontinuation of blood thinners.

The Watchman Device
The Watchman device

More than 90 percent of those who received the implant stopped taking the blood thinner warfarin after 45 days.

The Heart Hospital at St. Joseph’s/Candler is the only hospital in the region and one of only two in Georgia to provide this option to patients.

You are a candidate for The Watchman if you are living with AFib and also have one of the following conditions:

  • Gastrointestinal bleeding
  • A brain bleed
  • Easy bruising
  • High fall risk due to activity level or occupation

For more information, call 912-819-AFIB.

  • St. Joseph's Hospital Campus: 11705 Mercy Blvd., Savannah, GA 31419, (p) 912-819-4100
  • Candler Hospital Campus: 5353 Reynolds St., Savannah, GA 31405, (p) 912-819-6000
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St.Joseph's Hospital Campus: 912-819-4100

Candler Hospital Campus: 912-819-6000