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Safety tips when taking anticoagulants

Anticoagulants, often called blood thinners, are medicines that slow the clotting of blood. They do not actually thin the blood but increase the time it takes a blood clot to form. Anticoagulants help prevent existing blood clots from becoming larger and may be used to prevent deep vein blood clots or to treat certain blood vessel, heart, or lung conditions.

Safety tips for anticoagulants

  • Take the medicine at the same time each day.
  • Check with your doctor before using nonprescription drugs, especially ones that contain aspirin or other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen or naproxen).
  • Talk to your doctor before taking any vitamins, supplements, or other natural products.
  • Tell any new doctors that you are taking medicine that affects how your blood clots.
  • Before any surgery or test (such as a colonoscopy), talk to your doctor about whether you need to stop taking your anticoagulant for a short time before the procedure. Stopping the anticoagulant helps prevent extra bleeding during the surgery or test. Your doctor will tell you when it is safe to start taking your medicine again.
  • Be alert for signs of bleeding, and call the doctor immediately if any of the following symptoms occur:
    • Blood in urine, or stools that are red or that look like tar
    • Bleeding from the nose or gums, or spitting up blood
    • New, excessive, or prolonged vaginal bleeding
    • Frequent, severe bruising or tiny red or purple spots on the skin
  • To find out how often you should have blood tests, talk to your doctor about the medicines you are taking.

If you take warfarin (such as Coumadin):

Recommended Related to DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis)

Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes and Risks

Deep vein thrombosis (DVT) occurs when a blood clot forms in a vein deep inside a muscle in your body. It usually happens in legs but can also develop in your arms, chest, or other areas of your body. And though DVT is not common, it can be dangerous. The blood clot can block your circulation or lodge in a blood vessel in your lungs, heart, or other area. The clot can cause severe organ damage and even death -- within hours.

Read the Deep Vein Thrombosis Causes and Risks article > >

  • Get regular blood tests to ensure that you are taking the right amount of medicine.
  • Eat a balanced diet. Don't suddenly change your intake of vitamin K-rich foods, such as broccoli, brussels sprouts, cabbage, asparagus, lettuce, spinach, and some vegetable juices. It is most important to keep a consistent level of vitamin K foods in your diet. Vitamin K can interfere with the action of warfarin, making it more likely that your blood will clot.
  • Avoid excessive use of alcohol. If you drink, do so only in moderation. Alcohol may increase the effect of warfarin.
  • Don't use tobacco of any kind.
  • If your other doctors prescribe medicines for you, tell them that you are taking warfarin.
  • Talk to your doctor before taking any vitamins, supplements, or other natural products. Do not take ginkgo biloba or garlic while using warfarin.
  • Avoid activities that have a high risk for injury, such as skiing, football, or other contact sports. If you are taking warfarin, an injury could result in excessive bleeding.
  • Wear a seat belt anytime you are traveling in a car.

Preventing minor bleeding while taking anticoagulants

You may find it helpful to use the following items to lower the risk of bleeding:

  • An electric razor
  • A soft-bristled toothbrush and waxed floss
  • Protective clothing, such as gloves and shoes
  • Nonslip mats in the tub and shower

What to do if you miss a dose of anticoagulant

Call your doctor if you are not sure what to do if you missed a dose of anticoagulant.

Your doctor can tell you exactly what to do so you don't take too much or too little anticoagulant. Then you will be as safe as possible.

But here are some general rules for what to do if you miss a dose.

  • If you remember it in the same day, take the missed dose. Then go back to your regular schedule.
  • If it is the next day, or almost time to take the next dose, do not take the missed dose. Do not double the dose to make up for the missed one. At your next regularly scheduled time, take your normal anticoagulant dose.
  • If you miss your dose for 2 or more days, call your doctor.

Do not double the dose in any one day to make up for a missed dose.

Author Monica Rhodes
Editor Kathleen M. Ariss, MS
Associate Editor Pat Truman, MATC
Primary Medical Reviewer Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Richard D. Zorowitz, MD - Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation
Last Updated January 8, 2009

WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

Last Updated: January 08, 2009
This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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