Anticoagulants or blood thinners are prescribed to prevent blood clots from forming within the body. Certain medical conditions or a history of medical conditions require patients to be on a blood thinner, which can be prescribed by doctors under different names to be taken intravenously or in pill form. These conditions include a history of stroke, mechanical valve replacement in the heart, a blood clot and an abnormal heart arrhythmia or rhythm such as atrial fibrillation which strikes some patients as they age.
There are number of blood thinners on the market, including Coumadin, also known as warfarin, aspirin; plavix; ticlid; persantine; pradaxa, and aggrenox. Two new anticoagulants, known as xarelto and eliquis, have recently become available. Lovenox is an injectable blood thinner.
While they are therapeutic and life-saving, anticoagulants can cause side effects which require immediate medical attention. If you are on Coumadin, for example, you should be careful about eating too much food high in vitamin K as it can decrease the effectiveness of the medicine. Foods high in vitamin K include spinach, cabbage, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, asparagus and green leafy vegetables. In order to maintain a therapeutic dosage of Coumadin, doctors require a blood test called Protime/INR (International Normalized Ratio) to monitor levels of the drug in your blood. It is dangerous when the level is above the normal range and not therapeutic if it is below normal. Other factors that can influence Coumadin levels include antibiotics, diarrhea, liver/kidney function, infections, weather changes, and illness.
As with all medications, take this class of drugs as prescribed by your physician, and take your medication at the same time every day. Let your doctor know if you are not able to eat for several days or have persistent upset stomach, diarrhea or a fever as dosage may need to be adjusted. Avoid alcohol and smoking when taking blood thinners.
If you develop any of the following side effects or experience any of the following seek medical attention immediately:
- Black, tarry, or red color stools
- Abnormal bleeding
- Prolong bleeding from a cut
- Nose bleeds
- Red, pink, or dark brown urine
- Bleeding gums
- If you have any type of accident or a serious fall, or hit your head
- Develop headache or stomach pain that will not go away
- Vomit blood
Also, if your doctor prescribes a blood thinner, make sure to discuss the following with your healthcare providers:
- Inform your doctor if you are on vitamins, herbal and over-the-counter medications as these drugs may interact with the blood thinner
- If you are taking Coumadin, avoid cranberry juice as this will increase the drug’s effect
- Inform all your doctors and your dentist you are on a blood thinner
- Wear a medical alert bracelet
- Carry an ID card in your wallet with the name of the blood thinner you are taking
Courtesy of Kaytie Olshefski, RNC, BS, nursing coordinator of Adult Senior Communities in Monroe Township, on behalf of Saint Peter’s University Hospital. Visit our website to learn more about primary care services available at the Monroe Township, New Brunswick and Piscataway locations of the Saint Peter’s Comprehensive Care Group, as well as to learn information about urgent care services in Skillman.