LAAO procedure for AFib: An alternative to blood thinners

Heart Health

by Bao Le, DO

Jul 25, 2022

If you’ve been diagnosed with atrial fibrillation (AFib), your doctor may have mentioned the Left Atrial Appendage Occlusion (LAAO) procedure. An alternative to blood thinners, this minimally invasive treatment option is helping many people get back to living a happy, healthy, active life—unrestricted by many of the worries that often come with AFib.

Let’s walk through the benefits of the LAAO procedure, what to expect and how to know if this is a good next step for you. Of course, your cardiologist is your best resource in determining whether this treatment option is the right fit. (Don’t have a cardiologist? Find a cardiologist near you today.)

The physical and emotional impacts of living with AFib

No matter your age, physical activity is part of a happy and healthy life, whether it’s gardening, going to the gym, swimming laps or anything in between. But for those with atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat, those activities often come with a risk.

AFib is the most common type of irregular heartbeat. People living with AFib are at an increased risk of stroke. In fact, the risk of stroke increases five times if you have AFib.

Blood thinners, or oral anticoagulants, are the most common treatment to help prevent a stroke. While helpful in preventing a stroke, blood thinners also increase the risk of bleeding.

This fear of bleeding—or participating in activities where falls and then bleeding could occur—is often front-of-mind for those with AFib. As a result, living with AFib often comes with both physical and emotional impacts.

Physical limitations with AFib

Living with AFib and on blood thinners, while lifesaving for many, often leaves people feeling restricted. On blood thinners, it’s important to be cautious about daily activities to prevent falls and bleeding, such as playing with grandchildren, rock climbing or exercising. One misstep or fall could have serious consequences. 45% of people agree that AFib robs them of activities they used to enjoy.


Among those taking blood thinners, 38% feel trapped between the fear of having a stroke and the fear of risks associated with blood thinners.

Blood thinners have been the standard course of treatment for AFib patients, but for some, an alternative such as the LAAO procedure is a better long-term approach. This option permanently reduces stroke risk and can improve quality of life.

How the LAAO procedure works

An implantable cardiac device the size of a quarter, the Left Atrial Appendage Occlusion (LAAO) implant is a one-time, minimally invasive procedure for people with AFib that is not caused by a heart valve problem, also known as non-valvular AFib.

The procedure inserts a parachute-shaped implant with minimally invasive techniques into the left atrium (LAA), located at the top of the heart.

For people with an irregular heartbeat, blood clots may form in the LAA and travel to other parts of the body, which can cut off the blood supply in the brain, causing a stroke. This is one of the leading causes of death and disability. Closing off the LAA in your heart with the LAAO device permanently keeps those blood clots from forming.

What to expect during the LAAO procedure

If you and your cardiologist decide this procedure is a good option for you, here’s what to expect.

During the procedure

Cardiologists perform the hour-long, minimally invasive LAAO procedure in a catheterization lab. You’ll be under general anesthesia while the device is implanted.

After the procedure

You’ll generally be released from the hospital in less than 24 hours. You’ll gradually decrease your use of blood thinner medication over time, under the supervision of your cardiologist.

Benefits of the LAAO procedure

After the LAAO procedure, people find that many of the negative physical and emotional effects disappear altogether and are replaced with more flexibility and freedom.

  • Freedom from blood thinners. 96% of people were able to discontinue their blood thinner at 45 days. For those who have trouble remembering to take their anticoagulants, such as people with dementia, this can make a big difference in their health and long-term outlook.
  • Ability to be active again. Without use of blood thinners, people are able to get back to the active lives they used to enjoy—whether that’s playing with grandchildren, gardening, playing tennis or another active pastime.
  • No more restrictions. People no longer feel the constant concern of blood thinner bleeds weighing on their minds. They have more freedom to travel, enjoy activities and do what they want when they want.

Is LAAO right for you?

If any of the following statements are relevant to you, ask your cardiologist about LAAO:

  • I have AFib that is not caused by a heart valve problem.
  • I have been prescribed a blood thinner due to AFib.
  • I have one of the following:
    • Major bleeding while taking blood thinners
    • A lifestyle, occupation or health concern that puts me at risk for bleeding
    • Difficulties taking prescribed blood thinners

Ready to find out more about LAAO? Get care for AFib today.

About the Author

Bao Le, DO, is an interventional cardiologist on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – College Station.

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