Anticoagulant and Antiplatelet Drugs
Anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs are a type of
medication that is used to eliminate or reduce the risk of blood clots. They
are often called “blood thinners”, but these medicines don’t really thin the
blood. Instead, these medications help prevent or break up clots in your blood
vessels or heart.
Clots form when platelets stick together and proteins in the
blood bind together to form a solid mass. Blood clots are usually good, such as
when you get a scrape or cut. However, when blood clots form in your blood
vessels, they can be dangerous because they can block your circulation. When blood clots form in your arteries or
heart, they stop the flow of blood. This can cause a heart attack. If a blood
clot clogs the blood vessels in your brain, this can cause a stroke.
Anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs work by stopping platelets from adhering
to one another and clotting proteins from binding together.
Types of Anticoagulant and Antiplatelet Drugs
Heparin and Coumadin (warfarin) are two common anticoagulant
medications. Aspirin is a common antiplatelet medication.
Who Takes Anticoagulants?
Your doctor may recommend an anticoagulant or antiplatelet
medication if you have cardiovascular (heart) disease or problems with blood
circulation or blood flow. These medications are also sometimes prescribed for
people with atrial fibrillation (abnormal heartbeat). People who have had heart
valve surgery, or have congenital heart defects, can also be prescribed these
The greatest benefit of these medications is that they
prevent blood clots and the serious complications that can occur from them.
Aspirin in particular can be a lifesaver, according to the American Heart
Association (AHA, 2012). Aspirin has been known to help reduce the risk of a
transient ischemic attack (TIA), stroke, and heart attack (AHA,
If you are on anticoagulant medication you will undergo
regular blood tests called the INR Test. This lets your care provider know that
the medication is maintained at the proper level. It is important that you follow your care
provider’s instructions carefully when taking these medications.
There are serious risks to taking a blood thinning
medication. Sometimes the medication can cause bleeding problems, headaches,
dizziness, pain, and discomfort. You will need to call your doctor if you
- blood in your urine or stool or stools that look
like coffee grounds
- more bleeding than normal during your period
- purple toes, a sign of purple toes syndrome, a
- pain, change in temperature, or notice blackish
areas in your extremities
You should not take Coumadin if you are at risk for bleeding,
pregnant, or breastfeeding. You should also tell your doctor if you have
diabetes, high blood pressure, problems with falls, congestive heart failure,
or liver or kidney problems. Coumadin may worsen these conditions.
Patients should speak with their doctor to make sure the
benefits of taking blood-thinning medication outweigh the risks.
What You Need to Know When Taking Anticoagulants
A patient taking a blood thinner should let their healthcare
providers know. People taking Coumadin or heparin should be sure to wear an
identification bracelet. It is also important that care providers are aware of
any other medications that their patients are taking. Many other medications
can have an effect on how the body responds to anticoagulants.
A patient planning to have surgery or visit the dentist
should inform their surgeon or dentist that they are taking anticoagulants.
These procedures may risk bleeding that is difficult to stop. Sometimes, a
patient will need to stop taking blood-thinners before a dental appointment or
surgery. Discuss this with your doctor before doing so.
Because the risks and side effects are serious, patients
taking anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs should carefully follow the
instructions provided to them by their doctor, and call their doctor if they
miss a dose. Avoiding sports and other activities that might cause injury is
also important, as it may be difficult for the body to stop the bleeding or