Review Articles

The Left Atrial Appendage: Target for Stroke Reduction in Atrial Fibrillation



A patient with atrial fibrillation (AF) has a greater than 5% annual risk of major stroke, a 5-fold increase compared to the general population. While anticoagulation remains the standard stroke prevention strategy, the nature of lifelong anticoagulation inevitably carries an increased risk of bleeding, increased stroke during periods of interruption, increased cost, and significant lifestyle modification. Many patients with atrial fibrillation have had their left atrial appendage (LAA) ligated or excised by surgeons during cardiac surgery, a decision based largely on intuition and with no clear evidence of efficacy in stroke risk reduction. The observation that 90% of the thrombi found in nonvalvular AF patients and 57% found in valvular AF are in the LAA, triggered significant interest in the LAA as a potential therapeutic target. Until recently, the results were inconsistent, and high rates of incomplete occlusions precluded the medical community from confirming a definite relationship between LAA and stroke. As a result, anticoagulation is still the recommended first-line stroke risk reduction in AF, and the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association guidelines recommend LAA exclusion only with surgical ablation of AF or in the context of concomitant mitral valve surgery.

A handful of devices have been developed for LAA exclusion. This includes percutaneous options such as WATCHMAN™ Left Atrial Appendage Closure Device (Boston Scientific Corporation, Marlborough, MA), hybrid epicardial devices such as the LARIAT Suture Delivery Device (SentreHEART, Inc., Redwood City, CA), and epicardial surgical devices such as AtriClip® LAA Occlusion System (AtriCure, Inc., West Chester, OH). Studies of the Watchman device have shown noninferiority to Warfarin in stroke prevention and this device has recently gained approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) following lengthy delays due to safety concerns. The Lariat device, which received 510K clearance by the FDA for tissue approximation but not LAA exclusion, has been the target of significant criticism due to serious procedural safety concerns and high incomplete closure rates. The surgical AtriClip has been FDA approved since 2009 and is currently the most widely used LAA exclusion device placed through an epicardial approach. Small studies have shown excellent reliability and success of complete LAA closure with the AtriClip device, which is implanted through an epicardial approach. Currently, we are conducting a multicenter trial to demonstrate the stroke prevention potential of this epicardial device through a short (45 minute), stand-alone, minimally invasive procedure in lieu of lifelong anticoagulation in patients at high risk of bleeding.


left atrial appendageatrial fibrillationLAA exclusionstroke prevention
  • Year: 2015
  • Volume: 11 Issue: 2
  • Page/Article: 100-103
  • DOI: 10.14797/mdcj-11-2-100
  • Published on 1 Apr 2015
  • Peer Reviewed