Blood thinners are crucial in preventing and treating various cardiovascular and circulatory conditions. There are two main types of medications — anticoagulants and antiplatelets — a doctor may recommend depending on the reason for needing them.
Blood thinners work by preventing the blood’s ability to clot. They reduce the risk of dangerous blood clots forming that can lead to serious health problems, such as stroke, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), and pulmonary embolism (PE). Sometimes, these conditions can be severe or life threatening.
In this article, we will explore the different types of blood thinners, common blood thinner brands, their uses, and crucial information on how to take them.
Blood thinners are a category of medication that helps prevent the formation of blood clots within the bloodstream, a
Two primary types of blood thinners can help stop the formation of blood clots, including:
- Anticoagulants: These medications work by stopping the body from forming clots. They achieve this by affecting the proteins responsible for blood clotting, such as fibrin and thrombin. Anticoagulants may come in a pill form or as an injection.
- Antiplatelets: These medications target platelets, which play a
key rolein blood clot formation. Antiplatelets usually come in pill form.
Despite often being referred to as “blood thinners,” these medications do not actually thin the blood. Instead, they slow the body’s ability to form clots.
Depending on the reason for needing them, a doctor will select the most appropriate blood thinner after a thorough evaluation of an individual. They may prescribe the following:
Doctors may prescribe blood thinners for a range of medical conditions, including:
Risk factors increase the likelihood of blood clots forming in the leg and lungs and necessitate blood thinner use. Having surgery, for instance, may require a person to take anticoagulants beforehand or for months afterward.
Other risk factors include:
- physical trauma
- prolonged immobility
- having a family history of blood clots or blood clotting disorders
- taking certain cancer treatments
Taking blood thinners correctly and following a doctor’s instructions helps ensure their effectiveness and safety.
Here are some important guidelines:
- Follow the prescribed dosage: Always take the medication as a doctor prescribes. Never alter the dosage without their guidance. People with advanced age
may requirelower doses due to their risk of falls.
- Take at the same time daily: To maintain a consistent level of the medication in the blood, it is important to take it at the same time every day.
- Try to be consistent with diet: It is important to maintain a consistent diet while on blood thinners. Discuss any significant dietary changes with a healthcare professional. For some medications, such as warfarin, people may need to be wary of their vitamin K intake.
- Avoid over-the-counter (OTC) medications: Consult a doctor before taking any OTC medications or supplements, as they may interact with blood thinners.
- Monitor INR levels, if necessary: For people on warfarin, regular blood tests, such as the international normalized ratio (INR), are necessary to measure how long it takes a person’s blood to clot.
Learn more about drug interactions of anticoagulants.
The duration that a person needs to take blood thinners varies. Underlying medical conditions and individual risk factors can influence this.
Some people may need blood thinners for a few months, while others may require lifelong therapy. A doctor will determine the appropriate length of time based on an individual basis.
While blood thinners are effective at preventing blood clots, they are not without side effects.
Some common side effects of antiplatelet medications include:
- easy bruising
- aspirin-induced asthma
- nasal polyps
- ecchymosis, or skin discoloration due to bleeding beneath the skin
- blood in the urine
- a low blood platelet count
- abdominal pain
- an altered sense of taste
Blood thinners increase the risk of excessive bleeding, particularly for at risk individuals or people undergoing surgery. People should seek emergency help for excessive bleeding.
How to manage side effects
Consider the following measures:
- Stay cautious: Be mindful of surroundings and activities to prevent injuries that could lead to bleeding.
- Avoid alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption may increase the effect of the drug and the risk of bleeding. Consult with a doctor for guidance on alcohol’s effect on a specific type of medication.
- Use soft toothbrushes: To reduce gum bleeding risk, use a soft toothbrush for oral hygiene.
- Regular monitoring: Regularly follow up with a healthcare professional to monitor for any potential side effects and to adjust treatment or dosage, as necessary.
While blood thinners are lifesaving, they can potentially lead to long-term side effects and complications, including:
- Osteoporosis: Some blood thinners, particularly heparin and warfarin when taken long-term, may contribute to reduced bone density and an increased risk of fractures.
- Gastrointestinal issues: Chronic use of blood thinners can lead to gastrointestinal problems, such as ulcers in the stomach or intestines.
- Hemorrhagic stroke: Blood thinners can increase the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel in the brain ruptures. It is a medical emergency.
If people experience any of the following symptoms while on blood thinners, they should seek immediate medical attention:
- uncontrolled bleeding
- blood in the urine or stool
- a severe headache, weakness, numbness, or confusion
- severe abdominal pain
- coughing up blood
- frequent nosebleeds or heavy menstrual bleeding
Additionally, it is vital to regularly attend follow-up appointments with a healthcare professional to monitor the effectiveness of treatment and discuss any concerns or side effects.
Blood thinners are essential medications that help prevent blood clots and treat various cardiovascular and circulatory conditions. If a person has certain risk factors for clotting, such as physical trauma, blood thinners can help prevent serious complications.
The two primary types of blood thinners are anticoagulants and antiplatelets. Doctors prescribe these medications for conditions, such as atrial fibrillation, deep vein thrombosis, and heart valve replacement. Always follow a doctor’s instructions when taking them.
While blood thinners can be lifesaving, they also come with risks for potential long-term side effects and complications. If an individual experiences severe symptoms or side effects, they should consult a doctor or seek emergency help. Attending regular follow-up appointments when taking blood thinners is crucial to ensure blood thinners remain effective and safe.