Millions of Americans take blood thinners to prevent a heart attack or stroke and to help keep potentially dangerous blood clots from forming. Each year, about 2 million people in the United States will need to take a blood thinning medication. The reasons for using blood thinning medications vary from person to person, but one thing is common to all people who take them: Blood thinners are a lifesaving medication, but bleeding risks must be effectively managed. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid and quickly stop bleeding. A person who takes blood thinners should tell their healthcare provider about any bleeding or unusual bruising they experience, as well as any serious falls or a hard bump to the head. Although infrequent, bleeding caused by blood thinners can be very serious or life-threatening, like bleeding into the brain or stomach. Serious or life-threatening bleeding requires immediate medical attention.
Blood thinners are medications taken orally or intravenously (through a vein) to prevent a blood clot. Blood clots can stop the flow of blood to the heart, lungs, or brain. They can cause a heart attack or stroke. Your doctor may recommend taking a blood thinner if you have heart disease, including heart valve disease, and irregular heart rhythms. Doctors often prescribed medications called anticoagulants to people who have been diagnosed with some forms of heart disease. These blood thinners prevent blood clots by increasing the amount of time it takes your blood to clot. A blood clot is a seal created by the blood to stop bleeding from wounds. While they’re useful in stopping bleeding, they can block blood vessels and stop blood flowing to organs such as the brain, heart or lungs if they form in the wrong place. Anticoagulants work by interrupting the process involved in the formation of blood clots. They’re sometimes called “blood-thinning” medicines, although they don’t actually make the blood thinner. These medications must be taken exactly as directed to work safely and effectively.
Taking too little of these medications may not be effective, and taking too much can lead to serious bleeding.
- Rivaroxaban (Xarelto)
- Warfarin (Coumadin)
- Apixaban (Eliquis)
- Edoxaban (Lixiana)
- Dabigatran (Pradaxa)
Blood thinning medications do save lives, because they can treat or prevent dangerous blood clots. But, they also pose one possible and very serious side effect: Bleeding. Since blood thinners slow the clotting of blood, unwanted and sometimes dangerous bleeding can occur with the use of these medications. People who take these medications can avoid or reduce bleeding risks by taking their blood thinning medication as directed by their doctor, and, when taking the oral blood thinning medication warfarin, by having their blood monitored regularly. People who take blood thinners should report any bleeding or unusual bruising to their healthcare provider. Some bleeding can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Some bleeding is superficial and not life-threatening, but can still be a nuisance. When nuisance bleeding does occur, over-the-counter products can help stop bleeding quickly and safely
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