NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – Every year, nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. suffer a stroke – a leading cause of death and disability.

CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez reports there’s now a small, implantable device that can actually prevent many strokes.

Most strokes are caused by a blood clot that travels to the brain from elsewhere in the body. One of the the main causes of those clots is a heart rhythm abnormality, called atrial fibrillation or “AFib.”

Blood thinners help prevent those clots, but they can have serious side effects.

“They thin the blood, not just in the part of the heart that we care about, but throughout the whole body…. You can have bleeding from other locations, from your gastrointestinal system into the brain,” said Dr. Vivek Reddy, director of cardiac electrophysiology for Mount Sinai Health.

Dr. Reddy said that’s what led doctors to search for a non-drug way to prevent strokes.

Researchers reasoned that since most strokes in AFib start in a small, blind pouch in the upper chambers of the heart, there should be a way to close off that atrial appendage, and prevent strokes.

There is such a device, called The Watchman.

Dr. Reddy is the one of the first on the east coast to implant the safer, second generation Watchman-Flex.

It’s inserted via a long, thin catheter from the groin and opened up like an umbrella in the pouch, where tissue eventually grows over for a permanent closure and significant stroke prevention.

“The first generation Watchman device reduces stroke by about 65 to 70 percent… with this next generation Watchman-Flex device, it actually looks safer and as effective, if not even more effective.” said Dr. Reddy.

People with AFib are five-times more likely to have a stroke than those with a regular heart beat.

The Watchman device could have a major impact on stroke death and disability, since there are nearly six million Americans with AFib.

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