Background: The Watchman Left Atrial Appendage System for Embolic Protection in Patients With AF (PROTECT AF) randomized trial compared left atrial appendage closure against warfarin in atrial fibrillation (AF) patients with CHADS₂ ≥1. Although the study met the primary efficacy end point of being noninferior to warfarin therapy for the prevention of stroke/systemic embolism/cardiovascular death, there was a significantly higher risk of complications, predominantly pericardial effusion and procedural stroke related to air embolism. Here, we report the influence of experience on the safety of percutaneous left atrial appendage closure.
Methods and results: The study cohort for this analysis included patients in the PROTECT AF trial who underwent attempted device left atrial appendage closure (n=542 patients) and those from a subsequent nonrandomized registry of patients undergoing Watchman implantation (Continued Access Protocol [CAP] Registry; n=460 patients). The safety end point included bleeding- and procedure-related events (pericardial effusion, stroke, device embolization). There was a significant decline in the rate of procedure- or device-related safety events within 7 days of the procedure across the 2 studies, with 7.7% and 3.7% of patients, respectively, experiencing events (P=0.007), and between the first and second halves of PROTECT AF and CAP, with 10.0%, 5.5%, and 3.7% of patients, respectively, experiencing events (P=0.006). The rate of serious pericardial effusion within 7 days of implantation, which had made up >50% of the safety events in PROTECT AF, was lower in the CAP Registry (5.0% versus 2.2%, respectively; P=0.019). There was a similar experience-related improvement in procedure-related stroke (0.9% versus 0%, respectively; P=0.039). Finally, the functional impact of these safety events, as defined by significant disability or death, was statistically superior in the Watchman group compared with the warfarin group in PROTECT AF. This remained true whether significance was defined as a change in the modified Rankin score of ≥1, ≥2, or ≥3 (1.8 versus 4.3 events per 100 patient-years; relative risk, 0.43; 95% confidence interval, 0.24 to 0.82; 1.5 versus 3.7 events per 100 patient-years; relative risk, 0.41; 95% confidence interval, 0.22 to 0.82; and 1.4 versus 3.3 events per 100 patient-years; relative risk, 0.43; 95% confidence interval, 0.22 to 0.88, respectively).
Conclusion: As with all interventional procedures, there is a significant improvement in the safety of Watchman left atrial appendage closure with increased operator experience. Clinical Trial Registration- URL: http://clinicaltrials.gov. Unique identifier: NCT00129545.