The left atrial appendage is a small sac located in the top left chamber of the heart known as the left atrium. In a properly functioning heart, each time the heart contracts with a heartbeat, the blood in the left atrium and left atrial appendage is squeezed out into the bottom left chamber, known as the left ventricle. In patients with atrial fibrillation, the left atrial appendage does not function properly and blood stays longer and blood clots can be formed in the appendage, which can lead to stroke.
Cardiologists at UF Health are highly skilled at effectively treating and managing problems related to the left atrial appendage and helping to reduce your risk of stroke.
Atrial fibrillation and left atrial appendage function
When a patient has atrial fibrillation, the electrical impulses that control the heartbeat do not fire in an orderly rhythm. Therefore, the atria cannot contract and effectively squeeze blood into the ventricles. This can cause blood to collect in the left atrial appendage and blood clots can form. When a blood clot is pumped out of the heart, a stroke can occur.
Symptoms of conditions related to the left atrial appendage
Patients with conditions related to the left atrial appendage, such as atrial fibrillation, may experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain
- Fatigue, or excessive fatigue while exercising
- Fluttering feeling in your chest
- Rapid and/or irregular heartbeat
- Shortness of breath
- Weakness in arms and/or legs
Treating conditions of the left atrial appendage
A patient with atrial fibrillation is five-to-seven times more likely to have a stroke, so it is important to properly manage this condition. UF Health cardiologists may recommend taking a blood-thinning medication; however, some patients may not be able to take a blood-thinner and could benefit from other therapies for stroke risk reduction, such as closure of their left atrial appendage.
Closure of the left atrial appendage
If a patient is at risk for developing blood clots in the left atrial appendage and cannot tolerate blood thinners or is at high risk for a fall or bleeding, cardiologists may recommend undergoing a procedure to close the left atrial appendage, which is where 90% of the blood clots due to atrial fibrillation are formed. This is a one-time minimally invasive, catheter-based procedure, without the risk of open heart surgery, in which the closure device is introduced through a large vein in the leg, delivered to the heart and used to close the appendage. The procedure only requires overnight hospital stay for observation, and the device does not need to be replaced. This procedure can help reduce the risk of stroke, and over 95% of patients no longer need to take long-term blood-thinning medications after six weeks.
Why choose UF Health Jacksonville?
The internationally recognized heart team experts at the UF Health Cardiovascular Center are at the forefront in cardiac care, research and education. Our doctors have been leaders in percutaneous transcatheter interventions and minimally invasive heart and chest surgery for more than two decades. Our interventional cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons are professors and researchers in one of the nation's largest cardiovascular training programs at the University of Florida College of Medicine – Jacksonville.
Our heart team experts, as faculty of the University of Florida Division of Cardiology – Jacksonville, participate in numerous national and international clinical trials. Using the most sophisticated equipment available, the center offers state-of-the-art diagnostic, therapeutic and rehabilitative cardiac services. The UF Health Cardiovascular Center – Jacksonville is the only provider of many leading-edge interventional therapies and advanced treatment options in Northeast Florida, which we believe results in the best possible outcomes for cardiovascular patients.