Anticoagulants & Antiplatelets Basics – How To Use Them Safely?
If you’re experiencing some kind of heart or blood vessel disease or if there is a poor flow of blood to your brain then in this condition the doctor may recommend you blood thinning medications which normally called as blood thinners. These blood thinners reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by reducing the formation of the blood clots in veins and arteries and helping the smooth blood flow through the blood vessels. The two main types of blood thinners are anticoagulants and antiplatelets which reduce or eliminate the risk of forming blood clots. Blood thinners protect against heart attacks and strokes but at the same time, there are some risks or side effects associated with them. So, it is important for you to learn about blood thinners before you start taking them.
Today’s article entails the basics of anticoagulants and antiplatelets: the working and uses of these blood thinners, who should use them, who shouldn’t use them, risks and side effects and how these can be safely used:
What are anticoagulants and antiplatelets?
Anticoagulants and antiplatelets are the two main types of blood thinners and are often called as blood thinners or blood thinning medications. These drugs don’t actually thin your blood nor break up the clots, instead, they help in preventing the formation of dangerous blood clots in your heart or blood vessels (veins or arteries) by keeping the blood from getting thicker. They can also slow down the growth of existing blood clots. Without a proper treatment, these clots can block the normal blood circulation leading to heart attack or stroke.
How do anticoagulants and antiplatelets work?
Both the blood thinners prevent the formation of blood clots but they work in different ways. Let’s see how each of them works:
Anticoagulants: There are some proteins in our body that are involved in the process of coagulation by helping blood cells and platelets to bind together and these proteins are called as clotting factors. Anticoagulants interfere with these clotting factors to prevent the formation of blood clot. Most of these drugs are available in pill form but powerful types are recommended to give as a shot or through an IV, in a hospital or at home. The common anticoagulants are heparin and warfarin while others include:
- Apixaban (Eliquis)
- Edoxaban (Savaysa)
- Rivaroxaban (Xarelto)
- Dabigatran (Pradaxa)
- Fondaparinux (Arixtra)
Antiplatelets: This target the blood components called as platelets and interfere with binding of platelets or the process of forming the blood clots. These prevent the platelets to stick to each other and to walls of the blood vessels. These drugs are often prescribed to those people who are at increased risk of developing blood clots in future, rather treating the existing ones. Antiplatelets are available in pill form and some common of them include:
- Dipyridamole (Persantine)
- Clopidogrel (Plavix)
- Prasugrel (Effient)
- Ticagrelor (Brilinta)
- Ticlodipine (Ticlid)
- Eptfibatide (Integrilin)
For which purposes, anticoagulants and antiplatelets are used?
The doctor may recommend anticoagulant or antiplatelet if you have one or more than of following conditions, as each of these problems can cause blood to accumulate in blood vessels, leading to clot formation:
- Heart disease
- Atrial fibrillation, a condition of fast, irregular and abnormal heartbeat
- Blood circulation problems
- Congenital heart defects (holes in heart, abnormal heart valves & abnormal heart chambers)
- Condition in which valve in the heart doesn’t open fully (mitral stenosis)
- Some blood disorders that affect how your blood clots (inherited thrombophilia, antiphospholipid syndrome)
- Have had a heart valve surgery
Who needs blood thinners?
You may need anticoagulants or antiplatelets if you have had a heart attack or stroke because they can lower the risk of having a second one. If you have a heart or blood vessel disease, irregular heartbeat, congenital heart defects, certain blood disorders or deep vein thrombosis (DVT, a dangerous condition in which clot forms in the leg) then you need blood thinners. People who had a heart valve surgery also needs blood thinners.
Who cannot take blood thinners?
You cannot take anticoagulants or antiplatelets if you:
- Are pregnant
- Have stomach ulcer
- Have high blood pressure
- Have had bleed in brain (a hemorrhagic stroke)
- Are going to have a surgery in which there is risk of heavy bleeding
- Have reduced kidney function
- Take certain medications that can react with anticoagulants or antiplatelets
What are the possible side effects and risks of taking anticoagulants and antiplatelets?
Blood thinners prevent the formation of a blood clot so even very tiny cuts or bruises can bleed a lot if you are taking these medications. Any type of injury e.g. if you fall or hit your head then you may have a risk of bleeding even you could bleed internally. There are side effects and risks associated with anticoagulants or antiplatelets while some can be serious. Call you doctor immediately if you notice any of the following signs and symptoms while you are taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet medication:
- Increased bruising
- Blood in urine (red or pink colored)
- Blood in stools (coffee colored)
- Heavy bleeding than normal during menstrual periods
- Bleeding from nose or gums
- Weakness or dizziness
- A severe headache or pain in stomach
- Vomit or a cough having blood
- Purple toes
- Pain or blackish areas in your hands or feet
Due to the side effects of blood thinners, there is an increased risk of having complications while using them. People having diabetes, high blood pressure, bleeding disorder, balance problems, liver or kidney problems or congestive heart failure should discuss with the doctor about these problems before taking blood thinners. Warfarin may increase the risk of complications from these problems.
Moreover, pregnant or breastfeeding women should not use warfarin because it can increase the risk of fetal death and also harm the baby.
Some medicines and supplements including over-the-counter medications can also interfere with blood thinners. So, it is important to tell your doctor including the dentist that you are taking blood thinning drugs.
Diet also plays an important role, as some foods can increase the risk of bleeding by counteracting with blood thinners, so discuss with your doctor about your diet.
What are safety tips of taking anticoagulants and antiplatelets?
While taking anticoagulants and antiplatelets, make sure to follow the safety tips that keep you healthy and safe. These tips include:
- Tell all your doctors that you are taking anticoagulant or antiplatelet along with any other drug.
- Always take blood-thinning medicine as prescribed by the doctor on given days and timings.
- Make sure to take one dose at one time, if you forget to take a dose then don’t take two doses because this can increase the risk of bleeding.
- Do not start or stop taking any other medicine – whether prescribed or over-the-counter or supplements – without asking the doctor. Certain medicines and supplements increase the risk of excessive bleeding when they interfere with blood thinners.
- Avoid sports and any other activity such as gardening or sewing etc that may cause injury because it becomes difficult for the body to stop bleeding or to form a clot normally.
- Take extra care while brushing teeth or shaving in order to avoid any cut or bleeding gum. Try to use a soft toothbrush and an electric razor.
- Avoid insect bites and try to use insect repellent when contacting with insects.
- Limit the amount of alcohol and try drinking maximum 1-2 units per day.
Be sure to always wear an identification bracelet or medical alert bracelet or an ID card that says you are taking blood thinners. These identification bracelets alert the first-aid staff, first responders and doctors to devise an appropriate action in case of an emergency situation and it also informs other people about wearer’s health status.
Discuss with your doctor when you are planning a surgery or any dental procedure because they can increase the risk of bleeding and the body couldn’t normally form a clot. The doctor may recommend stopping taking blood thinners for the specific time period before and after the surgical procedure.
For a complete anticoagulation treatment & management plan, consult specialists at Island Medical Consultants in NYC:
The side effects and risks of anticoagulants and antiplatelets are serious and complicated and these become more serious if they are taken without a proper management plan. So, if you want a complete treatment and anticoagulation management plan then consult board-certified physicians at Island Medical Consultants in Staten Island, NYC. They are the right healthcare specialists for anticoagulation management therapy, because they devise a customized treatment plan according to the conditions and needs of the individual patient, offer regular monitoring and assessment of the therapy and give recommendations for improving your diet and lifestyle.