Blood Thinners: Uses, Types, Side Effects

Blood thinners prevent blood clots, which
can stop blood flow to the heart. They are medications taken orally or
intravenously (through a vein) to prevent a blood clot. Blood clots can stop
the flow of blood to the heart, lungs, or brain. They can cause a heart attack
or stroke.

Your doctor may recommend taking a blood
thinner if you have heart disease, including heart valve disease, and irregular
heart rhythms.

Blood thinners must be taken exactly as
directed. When you don’t take enough, the medication won’t be as effective.
Taking too much can lead to severe bleeding.

What blood thinners do

Some blood thinners thin the blood to keep
blood cells from sticking together in the veins and arteries. Others prevent
blood clots by increasing the amount of time it takes for blood clots to form.
These are known as antiplatelet and anticoagulant drugs respectively.

Antiplatelet drugs prevent blood cells
(called platelets) from clumping together and forming clots. Examples of
antiplatelet drugs are:

  • Aspirin
  • clopidogrel (Plavix)
  • dipyridamole (Persantine)
  • ticlopidine (Ticlid)

Doctors often prescribed medications called
anticoagulants to people who have been diagnosed with some forms of heart
disease. “Coagulate” is a medical term that means “to clot.” These blood
thinners prevent blood clots by increasing the amount of time it takes your
blood to clot.

Anticoagulants prevent clots from forming.
Common anticoagulant blood thinners include:

  • warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)
  • enoxaparin (Lovenox)
  • heparin

Newer anticoagulants with less risk of
bleeding include:

  • dabigatran (Pradaxa)
  • apixaban (Eliquis)
  • rivaroxaban (Xarelto)

Your doctor will carefully monitor your
dosage of blood-thinning medication. They may occasionally run a prothrombin
time (PT) test for some medications. This blood test measures your
international normalized ratio (INR).

INR is the rate at which your blood clots.
An appropriate INR rate varies from person to person according to their medical
history. Staying within your INR range can prevent you from bleeding
excessively or clotting too easily.

Possible side effects

Blood thinners may cause side effects in
some people. Excessive bleeding is the most common reaction. It can occur in a
variety of ways, including:

  • heavy periods
  • bloody or discolored urine or feces
  • nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • prolonged bleeding from a cut

Other side effects can include:

  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • hair loss
  • rashes

The presence of blood thinners in your
system can increase your risk of internal bleeding after an injury. Go to the
hospital right away if you experience any of these side effects after falling
or bumping your head — even if you don’t have external bleeding.

Your doctor may tell you to limit your
participation in contact sports to reduce the risk of bleeding. However, this
doesn’t mean you can’t exercise or live a normal life. Swimming, walking, and
jogging are excellent forms of exercise and are safe for most people taking
anticoagulants. Discuss with your doctor which types of exercise may be best
for you.

Tell your dentist that you’re taking blood
thinners to avoid excessive bleeding during regular teeth cleanings.

It’s also important to protect yourself
when using knives, scissors, or yard equipment.

Possible drug interactions

Various foods, herbs, and medications can
interfere with blood thinners. These substances can make the drug more or less
effective than your dosage would suggest. However, not all blood thinners are
affected by the same substances. It’s important to speak with your doctor or
cardiologist about your diet and how it may impact the effectiveness of your

These interactions may include:

  • Vitamin K, such as cabbage, brussels sprouts and broccoli
  • Herbs, including chamomile, echinacea, clove and evening primrose
  • Medications, like antibiotics, antifungal drugs, pain relievers, and
    acid reducers

Keyword: blood thinners.

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