Blood thinners are lifesavers for some patients, but they also come with a risk for bleeding. Even patients who have been on the medication for years can become seriously ill or even die if they are not aware of potential interactions and conditions that may increase their risk.
Anticoagulants are prescribed to treat blood clots or to prevent them in patients with certain medical conditions. For example, warfarin, a blood thinner that has been on the market for more than 50 years, is commonly used to prevent strokes in patients with an irregular heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation.
Even though warfarin is widely used, patients who use the drug must be monitored to be sure their blood isn’t too thin, which would put the patient at risk for potentially life threatening bleeds in the brain, stomach and joints. In the event their blood registers too thin, medications can be given to counter the effects of warfarin and prevent or stop bleeding.
What many patients don’t realize is that many other drugs – including over-the-counter medications – can increase their risk for bleeding events. For example, anti-inflammatory medication such as aspirin or ibuprofen should not be taken with blood thinners because they, too, can thin the blood. Some antibiotics can also increase the risk of bleeding.
Patients older than 75 and those with weakened kidney function are also at risk. Most blood thinners are processed through the kidneys. If kidney function is not efficient, it can leave traces of the medication in the blood so that when another scheduled dose is taken it registers higher in the blood than intended.
Researchers have been working to find new blood thinners that are safer than warfarin. In 2010, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Pradaxa, the first blood thinner to treat atrial fibrillation since warfarin 50 years ago. Doctors were hopeful, but that hope soon faded when data showed that Pradaxa was associated with a higher percentage of bleeding events than warfarin. What made bleeding events with Pradaxa even more dangerous is that there is no antidote to reverse the effects of the new blood thinner.
People who use blood thinners of any kind should be aware of the drug interactions with their medication and the signs of bleeding, including:
- Any unexpected, severe, or uncontrollable bleeding; or bleeding that lasts a long time
- Coughing up or vomiting blood; or vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- Pink or brown urine; red or black stools (looks like tar)
- Unexpected pain, swelling or joint pain
- Headaches and feeling dizzy or weak
If patients on blood thinners experience any of the symptoms listed above, they should seek immediate medical attention.
Source: Florida Today