With the beginning of a new year, we often look back and measure how far we’ve come. In 2015, I found five significant advancements in the treatment of Atrial Fibrillation.
1. FDA Approves the Watchman Device
Anticoagulant Alternative: Because A-Fib patients are at high risk of stroke and clots, a blood thinner (anticoagulant) like warfarin is often prescribed. If you can’t or don’t want to be on blood thinners, you had few options.
That was until March 2015 when the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the Watchman device. There’s now an option to blood thinners! The Watchman device (Boston Scientific) is inserted to close off the Left Atrial Appendage (LAA), the origin of 90%-95% of A-Fib clots.
It’s not an absolute guarantee you will never have a stroke―but neither is taking warfarin or the newer anticoagulants. For more, see Watchman Device: An Alternative to Blood Thinners.
2. Research: Watchman Better Than a Lifetime on Warfarin
The Watchman device isn’t simply an alternative to taking warfarin, clinical trials show it’s actually better. Patients with the Watchman had fewer hemorrhagic strokes and less bleeding compared to patients on warfarin. (Warfarin and other anticoagulants work by causing bleeding and are inherently dangerous.)
It’s too early to say the same about the newer anticoagulants like Pradaxa, Xarelto, Eliquis and Savaysa/Lixiana with their short history but one would expect the same general principles to apply. For more, see Watchman Better Than Warfarin.
3. Antidote for Pradaxa
Up to now, patients on Pradaxa have been bleeding to death in the emergency room while doctors were powerless to stop their bleeding and could only stand by and watch them die. See Stop Prescribing or Taking Pradaxa.
In October 2015, the FDA granted “accelerated approval” to Praxbind, the reversal agent (antidote) to Pradaxa (Boehringer Ingelheim). Praxbind (idarucizumab) is given intravenously to patients and reverses the anticoagulant effect of Pradaxa within minutes.
Note: The reversal agent, Andexanet Alfa, is on FDA fast track and is expected to be approved by mid-2016 as an antidote for Xarelto and Eliquis (Factor Xa inhibitors).
4. Life Style Changes Can Make Some People A-Fib Free
Weight Loss: A weight loss program and counseling in Australia has worked so well that some patients have become A-Fib free.
In his Adelaide clinic, Dr. Prashanthan Sanders convinces his overweight A-Fib patients to buy into the program, lose weight, and keep it off. This holistic approach to health has also been successfully applied to other A-Fib contributing factors such as diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension, binge drinking and smoking. See Weight Loss Key to Reverse Atrial Fibrillation, Improve Ablation Success.
Exercise: But not everyone can lose weight and keep it off. And other risk factors like hypertension and diabetes are more difficult to permanently change.
The same Australian researchers found that exercise improves A-Fib (even obese A-Fib patients benefit from exercise). Supervised aerobic and strength exercises reduced A-Fib by 84%.
Combine for Best Results: Exercise and weight loss together produced the best results. An astounding 94% of obese patients who both lost weight and exercised regularly were A-Fib free after rhythm control therapy (i.e., antiarrhythmic drugs and/or catheter ablation).
Couch Potato Warning: If you don’t exercise regularly, you’re almost guaranteed to stay in A-Fib. Even with rhythm control (antiarrhythmic drugs and/or ablation), 83% of the low-fitness obese patients had A-Fib.
5. Research Studies: Preventing Fibrosis
A-Fib produces fibrosis, and up to now, was considered permanent and irreversible. Fibrosis is fiber-like scar tissue that stiffens and weakens the heart muscle which reduces pumping efficiency and leads to other heart problems. (See Fibrosis and A-Fib).
Dr. Jose Jalife’s experimental studies with sheep found that a Gal-3 inhibitor (GM-CT-01) actually reduced or prevented fibrosis. Better yet, instead of having to wait years for possible FDA approval, a natural supplement, Pecta-Sol C (Modified Citrus Pectin) works like a Galectin-3 inhibitor.
For A-Fib patients, this may provide the means to avoid fibrosis or repair fibrotic heart tissue. (See Galectin-3 Inhibitor Prevents A-Fib).
A Personal Prediction
On a personal note, I’m excited about the great potential of the Watchman device to significantly reduce or eliminate the threat of strokes—especially in the elderly―even if they don’t have A-Fib.
Imagine a world where stroke risk could be eliminated by a simple 20-30 minute procedure. The Watchman device (and other occlusion devices) may change the way elderly medicine is practiced.
If you find any errors on this page, email us. Y Last updated: Thursday, January 21, 2016