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Taking Blood Thinners for Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)

Blood thinners (also called anticoagulants) are commonly used to treat deep vein thrombosis (DVT) in the upper part of the leg. Though they're called blood thinners, these DVT treatments do not actually thin your blood. Instead, they keep existing blood clots from getting larger or prevent new ones from forming. They do this by preventing the production of certain proteins needed for blood to clot. Common blood thinners include:

A special kind of heparin, called low-molecular-weight heparin (Fragmin, Innohep, and Lovenox), also treats DVT.

Recommended Related to DVT (Deep Vein Thrombosis)

DVT and the Risk of Pulmonary Embolism

When you have a deep-vein thrombosis (DVT), you need to treat it to avoid a life-threatening complication: a pulmonary embolism. A pulmonary embolism (PE) usually happens when a blood clot in the leg breaks away, travels to the lungs, and blocks a lung artery. It can damage the lung and other organs and lead to low oxygen levels in the blood. It can even be fatal.

Read the DVT and the Risk of Pulmonary Embolism article > >

Blood Thinner Basics

Heparin, fondaparinux, and warfarin are mainstays of DVT treatment and have a long history. DVT is often treated first with heparin or fondaparinux and then followed up with warfarin for at least 3 months.

As with all blood thinners, there is a risk of bleeding with heparin and warfarin if too much is given. But, the drug doesn't work if too little is given. Patients require close monitoring so their dose can be adjusted. In cases of a heparin overdose, protamine sulfate is given to neutralize its effects. If a person gets too much warfarin, they will likely get vitamin K to cause the blood to clot. Depending on the patient's situation and risk factors, DVT may be treated at home.

Eliquis, Pradaxa, and Xarelto are newer blood thinners. They don't require the lab tests and dose adjustments needed for heparin and warfarin. But in cases of an overdose with these medications, there is no readily available antidote. Which drug a doctor prescribes will vary depending on things such as a person's age and the health of their kidneys.

After treatment with anticoagulants, your doctor may recommend taking low-dose aspirin. While aspirin isn't as effective at preventing blood clots, it carries less risk for uncontrolled bleeding.

Tips for Taking Blood Thinners for DVT

If you're taking a blood thinner for DVT, you should know the following:

Heparin: Traditionally, people have received heparin by IV into a vein in the hospital for about 5 to 7 days. But low-molecular-weight heparin is effective within hours, reducing complications and hospitalizations. You can give yourself injections of low-molecular-weight heparin at home, once or twice daily. And because low-molecular-weight heparin is more consistent and predictable, it doesn't require regular blood tests.

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