Anticoagulants (sometimes known as “blood thinners”) are drugs that prevent blood from clotting or prevent existing clots from getting larger. They can keep harmful clots from forming in the heart, veins or arteries. These often-dangerous clots can block blood flow and cause a heart attack or stroke.
Some people may need to take an anticoagulant for life (e.g., a patient with a mechanical heart valve replacement). Others may need it for a short period (e.g., those with a blood clot in the leg due to immobility).
Longstanding anticoagulants like Coumadin® (warfarin) and heparin have been joined in recent years by newer varieties known as direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) such as Eliquis® (apixaban), Pradaxa® (dabigatran), Savaysa® (edoxaban), or Xarelto® (rivaroxaban). Your doctor will help you decide which one is right for you.
Who Takes Anticoagulants?
Anticoagulants may be prescribed if you have any of the following conditions:
- Atrial fibrillation also known as afib (a type of arrhythmia, or irregular heartbeat), one of the most common reasons for taking an anticoagulant.
- Surgical or transcatheter heart valve replacement. Mechanical valves can increase the chance of blood clots.
- Mitral stenosis. A condition in which one of the heart valves does not fully open or close.
- Certain blood disorders that affect how your blood clots.
- Orthopedic surgery (e.g., hip or knee replacement) could put you at increased risk for blood clots.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot in the leg.
- Stroke due to a blood clot in the brain.
- Pulmonary emboli (PE), a blood clot in the lungs.
Anticoagulants tend to be affected by other drugs, vitamins and certain foods, making the drug therapy confusing for patients and their caregivers.
Warfarin, for example, competes with vitamin K, so patients taking Coumadin® (warfarin) should consult with their healthcare provider about possible dietary restrictions. Prescription drugs can make some anticoagulants either stronger or weaker. A weak dosage increases the risk of stroke and heart attack, and too much puts a person at risk for bleeding. Always notify your physician when starting a new medication while taking warfarin.
If you’re taking an anticoagulant, it’s critical that you take your medication exactly as prescribed, without skipping a single dose. Many anticoagulants require regular blood tests to ensure the correct dose.
It’s also important that you let your primary doctor and dentist know you’re taking an anticoagulant.
Our Approach to Anticoagulant Treatment Options
The University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center (CVC) offers and supports a variety of anticoagulation treatment options.
Our experienced team believes that selecting an anticoagulant requires weighing individual patient factors to determine the most appropriate choice. As a support service to the Frankel CVC clinical faculty, U-M’s Anticoagulation Service works to:
- Reduce the number of potential anticoagulant issues: gastrointestinal bleeding, cerebrovascular accident, transient ischemic attack, pulmonary embolism and intracranial bleed.
- Enable patients to assume greater responsibility for their care through health education about the safe use of anticoagulants, the physical signs and symptoms of bleeding and the importance of laboratory monitoring.
- Improve patient adherence to the prescribed regimen.
- Manage transitions and interruptions in anticoagulant care.
Regardless of which anticoagulation option is selected, anticoagulation management services at the Frankel CVC ensure specialized care for all patients on anticoagulation therapy, not just those on Coumadin® (warfarin). All anticoagulant patients are offered comprehensive monitoring and management services as well as education. Our knowledgeable staff is available by phone to discuss any concerns or problems related to a patient’s medication.
Anticoagulation Patient Resources
For patient resources related to anticoagulation, including information about the Michigan Anticoagulation Quality Improvement Initiative (MAQ12) and the Anticoagulation Toolkit, visit our Anticoagulation Patient Resources page.
Michigan Anticoagulation Quality Improvement Initiative (MAQI2) and the Anticoagulation Toolkit
U-M is a part of the Michigan Anticoagulation Quality Improvement Initiative (MAQI2), a consortium of anticoagulation clinics and experts from across the state committed to improving the quality of anticoagulation care. One of the MAQI2 efforts is to provide comprehensive information about anticoagulant therapy, including an Anticoagulation Toolkit that addresses frequently asked questions and concerns.