What are blood thinners?
Blood thinners prevent blood clots, which can stop blood flow to the heart. Learn about how they work, who should take them, side effects, and natural remedies.
Blood thinners 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.
How They Work
Blood thinners don’t actually make your blood thinner. Nor can they break up clots. But they do keep blood from getting thicker and forming new clots. They can also slow the growth of existing ones.
Some anticoagulants do this by competing with vitamin K from the liver. Your body needs this to make proteins called clotting factors. These help blood cells and platelets (tiny pieces of blood cells) bind together.
Antiplatelets keep platelets from sticking to each other and to the walls of blood vessels. These drugs are weaker than anticoagulants. They’re often prescribed to people at risk for future blood clots, rather than to treat existing ones.
How to Take Your Blood Thinner
Always take your blood thinner as directed. For example, some blood thinners need to be taken at the same time of day, every day. Never skip a dose, and never take a double dose.
If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember. If you don’t remember until the next day, call your doctor for instructions. If this happens when your doctor is not available, skip the missed dose and start again the next day. Mark the missed dose in a diary or on a calendar. A pillbox with a slot for each day may help you keep track of your medicines.
Possible Side Effects
When taking a blood thinner it is important to be aware of its possible side effects. Bleeding is the most common side effect.
Call your doctor immediately if you have any of the following signs of serious bleeding:
- Menstrual bleeding that is much heavier than normal.
- Red or brown urine.
- Bowel movements that are red or look like tar.
- Bleeding from the gums or nose that does not stop quickly.
- Vomit that is brown or bright red.
- Anything red in color that you cough up.
- Severe pain, such as a headache or stomachache.
- Unusual bruising.
- A cut that does not stop bleeding.
- A serious fall or bump on the head.
- Dizziness or weakness.
Common risk: bleeding
Blood thinning medications do save lives, because they can treat or prevent dangerous blood clots. But, they also pose one possible and very serious side effect: Bleeding. Since blood thinners slow the clotting of blood, unwanted and sometimes dangerous bleeding can occur with the use of these medications.
A person who takes blood thinners should tell their healthcare provider about any bleeding or unusual bruising they experience, as well as any serious falls or a hard bump to the head. Although infrequent, bleeding caused by blood thinners can be very serious or life-threatening, like bleeding into the brain or stomach. Serious or life-threatening bleeding requires immediate medical attention.
How to manage nuisance bleeding
People who take blood thinners can still engage in most of the activities thatthey enjoy. They just need to take some extra precautions and, for example:
Be cautious about activities, such as high-risk sports, that may result in injury, and always wear proper safety gear, for example, a bike helmet when cycling
Wear protective gloves when working with tools, such as gardening shears or other sharp instruments
Be careful when trimming hair or nails
Use a soft toothbrush
Wear shoes to avoid cuts on feet
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