Blood Thinners: What You Should Know
Blood thinners are life-saving medications. These drugs don’t actually thin your blood, but they work in various ways to slow the formation of blood clots, which can prevent and treat many kinds of blood vessel, heart, and lung conditions. Blood-thinning medications are also used in the prevention of strokes. If you are diagnosed with some kinds of heart or blood vessel disease, your doctor will probably try prescribing you with a blood thinner. Read on to learn more about some of the most common types of blood thinners, when they’re prescribed and how they can help.
There are two types of blood thinners - anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs. Anticoagulants work with chemical reactions within your blood and body to prolong the time it takes to create a blood clot. Blood coagulates within your body, such as when you skin your knee and the blood coagulates to form a scab to prevent further bleeding. Unfortunately, this can cause blood clots when your body coagulates the blood prematurely or improperly. Antiplatelet drugs prevent the cells in your blood from clumping together to form a clot. These kinds of drugs can be dangerous if you injure yourself as your body will have a difficult time reacting to the injury and creating a scab to prevent you from bleeding out. That is why you shouldn’t take antiplatelet drugs, such as aspirin, before getting a piercing or tattoo. You will not heal properly.
Anticoagulant blood thinners, such as heparin or warfarin, block the effects of vitamin K within your bloodstream. You get vitamin K from green, leafy vegetables and juices within your diet and some multivitamins also contain it. When the vitamin K is blocked, blood clots aren’t formed so easily because the time it takes to make fibrin, a protein that inhibits the flow of blood, is lengthened. Anticoagulants aren’t usually working at full effect until two or three days after you start taking them. The most common side effect of anticoagulants is bleeding. Getting a bump that normally would just scrape the skin might bleed, or cutting your finger could result in serious blood loss if you aren’t careful. Anticoagulants are used most commonly to treat atrial fibrillation, or a fast and irregular heartbeat. An infection in the heart, a malfunctioning heart valve, or blood disorders are also reasons anticoagulants are prescribed. Leg surgery can also result in your temporarily being prescribed anticoagulants, as blood clots typically form in the leg and then travel to your heart, lungs, or brain where they cause serious sometimes fatal damage.
Antiplatelet drugs prevent blood from clotting because they stop the blood platelets from grouping together to form clots, such as scabs. Blood platelets are essential for human survival as they prevent us from sustaining too much damage to minor external or internal injuries. Sometimes, however, platelets can cause trouble when they try to group together to treat an injury to a blood vessel. If an artery is already damaged, a blood clot can prove very dangerous. Antiplatelets can be prescribed for patients with a history of chest pain, artery disease, stroke, or heart attack. If you have any kind of heart surgery or stents placed, your doctor will also likely prescribe an antiplatelet to prevent blood clots as your body recovers. If you are taking an antiplatelet, make sure your doctor and dentist know before they do any kind of procedure or surgery on you, even cavity fillings, as you may need to stop taking the antiplatelet a week before the procedure. Always ask your doctor before stopping any medication.
If you take any kind of blood thinner, there are some things you should know. First, try not to drink too much alcohol. Drinking a lot of alcohol can dramatically interfere with your body’s ability to clot. Drinking excessively while on blood thinners can cause falls or accidents due to the increased or decreased blood flow to your brain. Elderly patients who live alone might only be prescribed blood thinners if there is no other treatment option available to them as the danger of bleeding out should they fall or have an accident will be significantly greater. In addition, pregnant women should not take blood thinners unless prescribed as a last resort by a doctor. Pregnant women especially should not take anticoagulants within two weeks of delivering their baby as the medication will be passed on to the infant. Infants typically receive an injection of vitamin K immediately after birth to prevent excessive bleeding, and an anticoagulant will block the benefits of that life-saving injection.
There are new blood thinners on the market. While some doctors are incredibly enthusiastic about these new drugs, others are more hesitant. While the drug warfarin has been known for its aggressive side effects and risks, the new drugs do cause similarly aggressive side effects and complications in some cases. Most notably, the new blood thinners Pradaxa and Xarelto, new stroke prevention medications for patients with atrial fibrillation, have received the most concern from cardiologists. While Pradaxa and Xarelto are supposed to treat and prevent the conditions they are prescribed for, some cardiologists have found that they increase the risk of stroke, blood clots, and serious bleeding if not taken properly. In fact, Pradaxa was associated with 542 deaths in 2011. Many cardiologists do not feel that there are enough safety studies for these particular medications, especially with the increased risk of brain hemorrhage if a patient on Pradaxa or Xarelto should experience a fall and head injury. If you need to start a blood thinner, it is a conversation worth having with your doctor whether or not to trust the old, tried and true blood thinners of the past or to trust the advances in medical science and try the new medications.