What Are Anticoagulants?

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 of time (e.g., those with a blood clot in the leg due to immobility).

Longstanding anticoagulants like warfarin, heparin, and Lovenox (enoxaparin) 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
  • Other heart arrhythmias
  • Heart valve replacement. Mechanical valves can increase the chance of blood clots.
  • Mitral Valve Repair or MVR. A surgery to repair a valve in the heart that does not fully open or close
  • 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 a vein often a leg or arm
  • Stroke due to a blood clot in the brain
  • Pulmonary emboli (PE), a blood clot in the lungs
  • Prevention- sometimes anticoagulants are given to prevent blood clots from forming in high risk situations like someone with certain cancers or blood clotting disorders.

Important Precautions

Anticoagulants can be affected by other medications, certain foods, and some vitamins making the drug therapy confusing for patients and their caregivers.

Warfarin, for example, competes with vitamin K found in some foods and vitamins, so patients taking warfarin should consult with their healthcare provider about possible dietary changes. Prescription and over the counter medications can make some

anticoagulants either stronger or weaker. Always notify your physician when starting a new medication while taking anticoagulants.

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 that you are 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 side effects including gastrointestinal bleeding, strokes, and pulmonary embolism
  • 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 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 Center of Excellence

We are pleased to announce that we have passed the Anticoagulation Forum's assessment program and have earned the designation of an Anticoagulation Center of Excellence. The rigorous assessment gave us the chance to measure our practice against five key areas of patient care. The program also gives us ongoing access to a rich library of resources providing guidelines and tools to keep up with the changing field of anticoagulation.

The Anticoagulation Forum is a multidisciplinary non-profit organization with a mission to improve the quality of care for patients taking anticoagulants.

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.