A lot of people do take blood thinners to prevent the development and formation of clots in their blood, and conditions such as stroke, thromboembolism, atrial fibrillation, and other heart rhythm disorders. However, despite the importance and effectiveness of blood thinners in preventing the above diseases, they can carry serious risk and life-threatening side effects if not used carefully. Before going into the details of the risks associated with blood thinners, it’s important to know what blood thinners and important to consult with a cardiologist.

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What Are Blood Thinners?

Blood thinners are medications that prevent the formation of clots in the blood. Clots, when formed, can obstruct the flow of blood to the heart, and to the lungs, which can have serious consequences, and even lead to death if not well managed. Blood clots can lead to conditions such as deep vein thrombosis, ischemic stroke, pulmonary embolism and so on. They can be administered intravenously and also taken orally. Your physician may recommend this group of drugs to you if you have a heart condition, valve diseases, or irregular heart rhythms. Patients must be careful with these type of drugs. Blood thinners must be used according to instruction. They won’t be effective if less than normal doses are used, and would also be lead to complications if overdosed.

What Are the Purposes Of Using Blood Thinners?

Blood thinners as the name imply help to thin the blood. They prevent blood cells from sticking together in the vessels, which includes the veins and the arteries. Some other types of blood thinners prevent the formation of the clot by prolonging the clotting time in the blood. These types of blood thinners are also known as antiplatelet and anticoagulant medications respectively.

Antiplatelet medications help to prevent blood cells from clotting together. Examples of antiplatelet drugs include the following;

  • Aspirin
  • Clopidogrel
  • Dipyridamole
  • Ticlopidine

They are arranged above, in the order of their effectiveness. Patients can use more than one of the antiplatelet drugs, depending on the condition they present with. Physicians prescribe these drugs to help patients that have been diagnosed with heart conditions that involve clotting of blood.

Anticoagulants also help to prevent the formation of blood. Examples of anticoagulants include the following;

  • Dabigatran
  • Apixaban
  • Rivaroxaban

Physicians wouldn’t prescribe these drugs, without a close monitoring of the patient. They might run a test to check for the prothrombin time of the patient. The international normalized ratio of the patient can also be tested. The INR is the rate at which the blood clots. The normal INR of a healthy human is any value 1.1 Taking less than the prescribed dose wouldn’t produce the desired result, and taking an overdose would lead to grave outcomes.

What Are the Side Effects of Blood Thinners?

Blood thinners can lead to serious complications if overdosed. Below are some of the possible side effects of blood thinners;

  • Menorrhagia: This is a condition in which ladies or women experience a heavy menstrual flow. Blood thinners prolong the clotting time of platelets. This is why individuals on this medication should be careful enough to avoid injuries.
  • Hematochezia: This is a condition in which the stool is stained with blood.
  • Hematuria: This is a condition in which there is blood in the urine.
  • Nosebleeds
  • Patients might also present with bleeding in their gum.
  • Prolonged bleeding, especially after an injury or cut.

Some of the more general side effects of blood thinners include the following;

  • Dizziness
  • Headache: This is a very bad sign, as it could as a result of a rupture of the arteries in the brain.
  • Loss of hair
  • Skin disorders: Patients on blood thinning medications might present with skin disorders such as rashes.

It’s important to go to the hospital if you experience any of the above symptoms, even if it’s just an abnormal prolongation of bleeding, especially after a cut or injury.

What Are the Possible Drug Interactions with Blood Thinners?

There are some drugs, herbs and food that can influence the efficacy and chemistry of blood thinners. These substances can either make it more effective or reduce its potency. This is why it’s important to get clarifications from your physician on what medications, you can take while on blood thinners, and also what kind of food you can consume. Below are some of the common substances that can interfere with blood thinners;

  1. Vitamin K: Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin that supports blood clotting. Vitamin K can reduce the effectiveness of some anticoagulants. An example of a blood thinner that can be influenced by Vitamin K is warfarin. A patient on blood thinners can still consume foods that are has a low amount of vitamin K. However, other foods that have a moderate to high levels of vitamin K should be totally avoided. Examples of this kind of food include cabbages, broccoli, asparagus. Collard greens, spinach, kale and so on.
  2. Herbs: Individuals on anticoagulant should be careful when using herbal drugs, and supplements. Some herbs can influence the action of blood thinners. They can also increase the risk of bleeding, as well as prolong the bleeding time. It’s important to speak to your doctor before using any herb. Examples of herbs or teas that can influence the actions of blood thinners include the following chamomile, clove, willow bark, ginseng, evening primrose oil and so on. Some drinks can also influence the effectiveness of blood thinners. Some of them include cranberry juice, alcoholic beverages and so on.

Important Tips For Using Blood Thinners

Below are some of the things to consider before using blood thinners;

  • Don’t overdose, or use less than the dose you’ve been prescribed.
  • Be careful not to injure yourself, especially when exercising or handling a sharp object.
  • Endeavour to wear gloves when handling things with sharp edges.
  • Ensure you wear your shoes, always, except when you’re in bed.
  • Make use of a soft toothbrush, and a waxed dental floss to clean your mouth.
  • Contact your physician in the case of an accident or injury immediately.
  • Disclose to any physician that’d be prescribing drugs to you that you on blood thinners. This would guide them in selecting the right medications that wouldn’t interfere with the activities of the blood thinners.

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Salonia, J. (2008). Common Blood Thinners: What Are the Differences?. Journal Of Emergency Nursing, 34(2), 174-176. doi: 10.1016/j.jen.2007.11.006

Somes, J., Vernell, M., & Stephens Donatelli, N. (2013). Excessive Bleeding: Not Really Due to “Blood Thinners”. Journal Of Emergency Nursing, 39(1), 72-75. doi: 10.1016/j.jen.2012.10.001

Sugerman, D. (2013). Blood Thinners. JAMA, 310(23), 2579. doi: 10.1001/jama.2013.282755