Blood thinners: What you need to know

According to the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, Americans spend nearly $1 billion on blood thinners annually. We asked Katharine Lundy, PharmD Candidate, Ohio Northern University College of Pharmacy, to tell us more about these common medications.

Your doctor may have prescribed a medication for you known as a blood thinner, or anticoagulant. Common medications include: Coumadin® (warfarin), Lovenox (enoxaparin), Eliquis® (apixaban), Xarelto® (rivaroxaban), Pradaxa® (dabigatran), Savaysa® (edoxaban) and Heparin. There are other medications that work similarly, but by a slightly different mechanism, such as Aspirin, Plavix (clopidogrel), Effient (prasugrel) and Brilinta® (ticagrelor)

What is it for?

Many people take blood thinners to help prevent clots from forming. Blood clots can be painful and prevent circulation to different parts of the body, such as your legs, lungs, or even your brain, which would result in a stroke.

What are the risks?

The biggest risk or side effect of taking a blood thinner is an increased risk of bleeding. While taking a blood thinner, know that if you injure yourself it may take longer than usual for the bleeding to stop or bruising to heal. Be cautious when performing routine tasks, such as shaving or brushing your teeth.

There are some situations that are more serious and require you to seek medical attention:

  • A fall where you hit your head - This may cause bleeding in your brain and you should go to the emergency room to be evaluated, even if you feel fine
  • Blood in the urine (may appear pink, red or brown)
  • Blood in the stool (may appear bright red, black or tar-like)
  • Bleeding that doesn’t seem to be slowing or stopping or bruises that don’t appear to be healing
Should I avoid any other medications?

All agents that prevent blood clots when used in combination will increase your risk of bleeding. Additionally, over-the-counter pain medications, such as aspirin, Advil® or Motrin® (ibuprofen), and Aleve (naproxen) can increase your risk of bleeding too. If using an over-the-counter pain medication, Tylenol (acetaminophen) is the safest option.

Some blood thinners (like warfarin) have interactions with other medications (such as antibiotics) as well. Make sure to speak with your doctor or pharmacist to find out what types of medications your blood thinner may interact with.

Who should know?

Make sure to tell all your doctors (including your dentist) that you are taking a blood thinner. Some physicians may have you stop taking your blood thinner prior to undergoing a surgical procedure.

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