May 15, 2021

By Jeremy Logan

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A Canadian surgeon who is the lead author of an international study says a simple surgery to remove some unnecessary tissue in the heart could prevent potentially fatal strokes in patients with a common condition requiring them to take blood thinners.

Doctor Richard Whitlock, a cardiac surgeon for Hamilton Health Sciences, says the left atrial appendage is where blood clots can form and cause a stroke in patients who have atrial fibrillation, which involves an irregular heart rhythm.

The study of 4,800 people in 27 countries was published Saturday in the New England Journal of Medicine.

It suggests getting rid of the appendage cuts the risk of stroke by 33% for atrial fibrillation patients on blood thinners, many of whom are elderly.

Whitlock says blood thinners reduce the risk of stroke by up to 60% so combining the medicine with the surgery would be a big benefit for 15% of heart surgery patients.

He says findings of the McMaster University-led study suggest the quick surgery could be adopted around the world right away.

The data was presented Saturday at a conference of the American College of Cardiology.

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