May 15, 2002

Debbie Neufert
Media Relations, LHSC
519-685-8500, ext. 74772

Doctors at London Health Sciences Centre first in Canada to try new procedure for stroke prevention

(LONDON, Ontario) There is some encouraging news today for patients at risk of having a stroke but can't tolerate powerful blood thinning drugs which help prevent blood clots. Doctors at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) are the first in Canada to complete a new procedure, which closes the area of the heart where the majority of blood clots form.

The procedure has only been done on a total of 36 patients worldwide. It is called a left atrial appendage occlusion, and it is for patients with atrial fibrillation who cannot take anticoagulants or blood thinners. Atrial fibrillation is improper electrical function in the top chambers of the heart. This creates the potential for blood clots to form because blood isn't being fully pumped out of the heart chambers causing it to pool.

Ninety-five per cent of blood clots form in the left atrium and specifically in the left atrial appendage, which is a small sac, the size of an adult's thumb at the side of the left atrium. This new procedure involves blocking blood flow into the appendage by placing a metal and cloth device about 2 to 3 centimetres in diameter into the appendage.

Dr. Allan Skanes, LHSC cardiologist and assistant professor of medicine at the University of Western Ontario (UWO), and Dr. William Kostuk, LHSC cardiologist and UWO professor of medicine, performed the first Canadian procedure. The doctors delivered the device into the appendage using a catheter advanced through a vein in the leg to the heart. Previously, the left atrial appendage would only be closed if a patient were already having heart surgery, such as cardiac bypass surgery.

Dr. Skanes says, "For patients with atrial fibrillation, this provides great peace of mind knowing that even though they can't take blood thinners they have another avenue to try to reduce the risk of stroke." Skanes adds, "While this new procedure is still in its early stages and is not yet fully proven to prevent strokes, the results are promising and this could be a standard of care in the near future."

Patients with atrial fibrillation who are interested in the procedure need a referral from their family physician.

London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC)
New stroke prevention procedure - Fact Sheet

  • Atrial fibrillation is a leading cause of stroke.

  • About 200,000 Canadians have atrial fibrillation.

  • The potential for atrial fibrillation begins to increase after the age of 60.

  • Five to 10 per cent of people in there 70's have atrial fibrillation.

  • The primary treatment for atrial fibrillation is a blood thinning drug called Warfarin (generic name) to try to reduce the risk of blood clots which lead to a stroke.

  • About one-quarter of people with atrial fibrillation can't tolerate the blood thinning drugs.