In a new study from McMaster University, researchers found that a simple surgery saves patients with heart arrhythmia from often-lethal strokes.
They found that removing the left atrial appendage—an unused, finger-like tissue that can trap blood in the heart chamber and increase the risk of clots—cuts the risk of strokes by more than one-third in patients with atrial fibrillation.
Even better, the reduced clotting risk comes on top of any other benefits conferred by blood-thinner medications patients with this condition are usually prescribed.
Atrial fibrillation is common in elderly people and is responsible for about 25% of ischemic strokes which are caused when blood clots block arteries supplying parts of the brain.
In the study, the team tracked 4,811 people in 27 countries who are living with atrial fibrillation and taking blood thinners. The average age of patients in the study was 71.
The patients undertaking cardiopulmonary bypass surgery were randomly selected for the additional left atrial appendage occlusion surgery. They were all followed for about four years.
The team says it was suspected since the 1940s that blood clots can form in the left atrial appendage in patients with atrial fibrillation, and it made sense to cut this useless structure off if the heart was exposed for other surgery. This is now proven to be true.
If people have atrial fibrillation and are undergoing heart surgery, the surgeon should be removing the left atrial appendage, because it is a set-up for forming clots.
This study has shown this to be both safe and effective for stroke prevention
The current study tested the procedure during cardiac surgery being undertaken for other reasons, but the procedure can also be done through less invasive methods for patients not having heart surgery.
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