Millions of people across the world have blood clots as a result of heart or blood vessel diseases. Blood clots can form in veins, arteries, and the heart. When a clot or a piece of blood clot breaks away, the clot known as an embolus can move throughout the body and cause a heart attack or stroke. Blood thinners are medications that help prevent or reduce the clotting of blood in arteries, veins or the heart.
Types of Blood Thinners
There are two types of blood thinners: anticoagulants and antiplatelet agents. Anticoagulants are medications that decreases the clotting of the blood by increasing the time it takes for a blood clot to form. Examples of anticoagulants include medications such as warfarin, heparin and dabigitran. Antiplatelet agents are medications that prevent blood cells called platelets from clumping together and forming blood clots. Aspirin is an example of an antiplatelet agent.
What Conditions Do Blood Thinners Treat?
Blood thinners can be used to reduce the risk of heart attacks and stroke. They can also prevent blood clots from forming through vessels of the body, including in the lungs (pulmonary embolism) and a deep vein (deep vein thrombosis, usually seen in the leg). Blood thinners can also be used in patients who have had a heart valve replaced, atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm of the atria, the pumping chamber of the heart), congestive heart failure, and other conditions. They cannot destroy clots that have already formed.
What are the Side Effects?
Like many medications, blood thinners can have common, rare and serious side effects. Some common side effects include bloating and gas, diarrhea, upset stomach or vomiting, and decreased appetite. Let your doctor know immediately if you experience side effects such as red or dark brown urination, dark stools (red, dark brown, or black), if you are bruising more often, fever, chills, weakness, jaundice (yellowing of the skin or eyes), headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, mouth sores or bleeding gums, or purple coloring to your fingers or toes.
If you are taking anticoagulants such as warfarin or heparin, your doctor will ask you to have regular blood tests completed to see how well the medication is working. Be mindful of your diet since the effectiveness of warfarin is decreased by foods rich in vitamin K such as fish, liver, cabbage, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, spinach, and other leafy green vegetables. Avoid smoking and drinking alcohol.
Blood thinners, especially anticoagulants, interact with many medications. Inform your doctor if you are taking acetaminophen, ibuprofen, ketoprofen, naproxen, antiarrhythmics (medications to treat an irregular heartbeat), antacids, corticosteroids, antidepressants, antihistamines, calcium and vitamin K supplements, sleeping pills, certain antibiotics, certain medicines used to treat seizures, medicine used to treat an overactive thyroid, and certain antifungal medicine.
Talk to your Health Care Professional
It is important to talk to your pharmacist or physician about your risk of stroke, heart attack and other blood vessel diseases and if a blood thinner would be needed. Discuss with them the medications you are currently taking and the best ways to prevent these conditions. They are a great resource that can guide you and educate you on blood thinners, their uses, benefits, and side effects.
- Prevention of Ischemic Stroke. Compendium of Therapeutic Choices. Canadian Pharmacists Association (2017)
- Venous Thromboembolism. Compendium of Therapeutic Choices. Canadian Pharmacists Association (2017)
- Post-myocardial Infarction. Compendium of Therapeutic Choices. Canadian Pharmacists Association (2017)
- Acute Coronary Syndromes Compendium of Therapeutic Choices. Canadian Pharmacists Association (2017)
- Blood Thinners – US National Library of Medicine. MedlinePlus. (2016)
- Anticoagulants – Texas Heart Institute (2016 August). Retrieved from: http://www.texasheart.org/HIC/Topics/Meds/blodmeds.cfm
- What are Anticoagulants and Antiplatelet Agents? American Heart Association (2017). Retrieved from: http://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/documents/downloadable/ucm_300338.pdf
- Anti-Clotting Agents Explained. American Heart and Stroke Associations (2014 April 30). Retrieved from: http://www.strokeassociation.org/STROKEORG/LifeAfterStroke/HealthyLivingAfterStroke/ManagingMedicines/Anti-Clotting-Agents-Explained_UCM_310452_Article.jsp#.WaiUUumQzIV
Suggest a topic
Do you have a question for the pharmacist or a topic suggestion?
Send us an email and suggest a topic.
This article was provided by the clinical pharmacy at Rx Infinity. Rx Infinity provides optimal and sustainable patient management solutions through customized programs, innovative technology and added value services that improve the overall patient experience; while helping payers and plan sponsors achieve sustainability in the management of drug plans expenditures.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions about your medical condition. Do not disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking advice or treatment because of something you have read here.