CPR First Aid

Blood Thinners: Types, Uses and Side Effects

Patients who take blood thinners have to be especially careful about injuries and accidents. This is because this drug type can make bleeding occur more easily. Blood thinners are important medicines that help prevent strokes, heart attacks, and other serious health problems. But it’s important to understand how they work, what types are available, and the possible side effects before starting one.

What are Blood Thinners?

Since the beginning of the twentieth century, blood thinners have been used. They do not literally ‘thin’ the blood, despite the misleading term, but they effectively stop blood clots from developing in individuals who are at high risk for heart and blood vessel problems.

Blood thinners, also popularly known as anticoagulants (but there are other types), help your veins and arteries carry blood more easily. Additionally, they prevent blood clots from growing or developing. They are used to treat a variety of cardiac disorders, including congenital heart abnormalities, as well as other ailments that may increase your risk of developing risky blood clots.

There are risks associated with them, for instance, when you cut yourself, they’ll make you bleed more than usual. However, these medications often have more life-saving advantages than risks. Even so, it’s crucial to educate yourself on both before beginning to take these medications.

How Do Blood Thinners Work?

Blood thinners function in many ways. Some work by preventing or lessening the effects of vitamin K on blood clotting. Vitamin K is necessary for your body to produce the clotting factor proteins. These aid in the bonding of platelets, which are little fragments of blood cells. Others inhibit the enzymes or proteins that bind platelets and blood cells. And another kind of blood thinner also prevents platelets from adhering to one another or to blood vessel walls. 

Types of Blood Thinners

When it comes to blood thinners, the main categories are anticoagulants and antiplatelet drugs. We’ll also discuss Fibrinolytics for additional knowledge. Each one has its own set of benefits and risks, so it’s important to understand the differences before making a decision about which is right for you. Here’s a quick rundown of the key points to know about each type.

Anticoagulants

The mechanism of action of anticoagulants is to prevent the formation of clots within the blood vessels. These drugs work by inhibiting the activity of clotting factors in the blood, which is responsible for the clotting process.

People who have been diagnosed with certain types of heart disease frequently receive prescriptions for drugs called anticoagulants from their doctors. These blood thinners prevent blood clots by lengthening the time it takes your blood to clot (the medical name for this is “coagulate”). The majority are taken as pills, but some, including heparin, are administered as injections. The following are some of the most well-known anticoagulants:

  • Apixaban
  • Dabigatran
  • Dalteparin
  • Edoxaban
  • Enoxaparin
  • Fondaparinux
  • Heparin
  • Rivaroxaban
  • Warfarin

Antiplatelets

Antiplatelet drugs prevent platelets, which are very small blood cells, from attaching to one another and to blood vessel walls. The dosage form usually comes in pills and consists of:

  • Aspirin
  • Cilostazol
  • Clopidogrel
  • Dipyridamole
  • Eptifibatide
  • Prasugrel
  • Ticagrelor
  • Tirofiban
  • Vorapaxar

Fibrinolytics

These drugs work by breaking down the fibrin in the blood clots. This allows the body to dissolve the clot and improve blood flow. Fibrinolytics are often used to treat heart attacks, strokes, and other conditions where there is a blockage in the blood vessels. Retaplase has now been included in the list of medications along with streptokinase and tissue plasminogen activator (tPA).

Common Blood Thinners in Adelaide

There are a variety of blood thinners available in Adelaide and all across Australia. The most common are aspirin, warfarin and heparin. The former is used to prevent blood clots from forming, while warfarin and heparin are used to treat existing blood clots.

Aspirin

The simplest and most effective blood thinner. It is inexpensive and has few side effects. However, it does not work for everyone and some people may be allergic to aspirin.

Warfarin

A more powerful blood thinner is used to treat blood clots. It is effective but can cause serious side effects, such as bleeding. Warfarin must be monitored closely by a doctor to ensure that it is taken correctly.

Heparin

A blood thinner is injected into the body. Although it is effective, there are some major adverse effects, such as bleeding. To ensure that heparin is taken properly, a doctor must regularly monitor the patient.

Who Needs to Take Blood Thinners?

Between two and three million people use blood thinners annually. If a person has already experienced a heart attack or stroke, the doctor may prescribe these drugs to reduce the risk of suffering another one.

If the individual has a heart condition, blood vessel illness, an irregular heartbeat, lupus, or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), he or she might also be required this kind of medication. Additionally, if the person is overweight, recently had surgery, or has an artificial heart valve, there is a higher risk for blood clots.

Conditions That May Need Blood Thinners

Some people only require these medications for a short time. At the same time, someone might need to take them for a long time if health issues are persistent. Blood thinners can help treat these conditions:

Atrial fibrillation

The heart’s upper chambers quiver or beat irregularly. This can cause blood to pool in the atria and form clots. If a clot breaks free, it could travel to the brain and cause a stroke. Blood thinners can reduce the risk of stroke if a person has atrial fibrillation. It is frequently prescribed by doctors for this reason.

Pulmonary embolism

The formation of a clot in the lungs. It can be caused by blood clots that travel from other parts of the body, such as the leg.

Deep vein thrombosis

Blood clots form in the veins, usually in the legs. If the clot breaks free, it could travel to the lungs and cause a pulmonary embolism.

Heart attack

The heart muscle is damaged by a lack of oxygen. Oxygen deprivation can be caused by a clot that blocks one of the heart’s arteries.

Vascular surgery

It is any type of surgery that involves the blood vessels. This includes procedures such as angioplasty and bypass surgery.

Artificial heart valves

The patient has an artificial valve in their heart. The artificial valve can be made of metal, plastic, or other materials.

History of stroke

The patient has had a stroke in the past. This increases the risk of having another stroke.

Sickle cell disease

The patient has abnormal red blood cells. These abnormal cells can block blood vessels and cause pain and other problems.

Very high blood pressure

The patient has extremely high blood pressure. This can damage the arteries and increase the risk of stroke, heart attack, and other problems.

Pregnancy

Pregnancy increases the risk of developing blood clots.

Do high-altitude mountain climbers take blood thinners?

Prior to ascending to a higher altitude, it’s essential to understand the reason for the prescription of any medications. They are typically prescribed to those who have a higher risk of having a heart attack or stroke, as well as to those who may be at risk of developing blood clots in their legs or lungs.

There is less oxygen when the body rises in altitude. Blood pressure increases as a result of the heart having to work harder to pump enough oxygen to the rest of the body. The likelihood of a heart attack or stroke will rise as a result. Additionally, it implies that bleeding injuries will be even harder to stop than they would be at home.

The blood will thicken as the body adapts (more red blood cells). Before any changes are observed, it typically takes several weeks (even a month) at altitude. The healing process is also slowed by altitude. Any bleeding will therefore take longer to stop.

Food to Avoid

Several foods have the potential to reduce the effectiveness of blood thinners. As a result, before making any necessary dietary changes, you should always talk to your doctor. Foods to avoid generally include:

  • Leafy greens like spinach, kale, and broccoli as well as asparagus and cabbage are among the foods high in vitamin K.
  • A herbal supplement. Chamomile, ginseng, cloves, liquorice, and echinacea are a few of the typical herbal sleep aids or tea additives.
  • Alcohol. Alcohol and drugs are both metabolised by the liver. The level of medication in your blood may be higher than it should be if you drink while also taking blood thinners since your liver breaks down alcohol that you’ve drunk.

Risks and Side Effects

When engaging in activities that potentially result in any kind of injury, you should be extremely cautious. If you fall or hurt your head, call your doctor right away. You might bleed internally even if you don’t damage your skin.

If you detect any indications of unusual bleeding, including but not limited to:

  • Increased menstrual flow
  • blood in faeces or urine
  • bleeding from the nose or gums
  • spitting up or coughing up  blood 
  • Dizziness
  • Weaknesses

Regular blood tests are required if you take an anticoagulant like warfarin so that your doctor can adjust your dosage as necessary. Inquire with them about additional safety precautions you should take while using this drug. Avoid engaging in any activities that put your head at risk. If you’re taking a blood thinner, any form of trauma is exceedingly risky. Doctors may use vitamin K as an “antidote” or a mixture of prothrombin complex concentration (PCC) and fresh frozen plasma to stop serious bleeding if you are taking warfarin.

Additionally, administering reversal medications such as andexanet alfa to counter the anti-clotting effects of apixaban, rivaroxaban), or idarucizumab to counteract the effects of dabigatran etexilate has been given approval.

Bleeding as a consequence

One of the most common side effects of blood thinners is bleeding. While some bleeding is to be expected, especially when starting on a new medication, excessive or uncontrolled bleeding can be dangerous. If you are taking a blood thinner and experience any unexpected or uncontrolled bleeding, it is important to seek medical help immediately.

Depending on the severity of the bleeding, you may need to be hospitalised and monitored closely. In some cases, blood transfusions may be necessary. If you are taking a blood thinner, it is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of bleeding so that you can seek treatment as soon as possible if necessary.

CPR and first aid courses for bleeding in Adelaide CBD are available at CPR First Aid, with almost two decades of delivering quality, compliant, and accredited training for its participants. For more information, feel free to reach out to us.

How to Safely Take Blood Thinners?

Blood thinners should be taken every day at the same time. Never attempt to make up for a missed dose and never skip a dose. If you happen to miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember it. If you entirely miss it, talk to your doctor before continuing your medicine. Never use drugs on your own.

Listed are some of the ways how to take blood thinners safely:

Avoiding bumps and falls

A heart attack and stroke can be avoided by taking the blood thinner that your doctor ordered to prevent clots from forming in your heart or blood arteries. However, a slight wound might become dangerous since these medications make it difficult for you to stop bleeding. Avoid engaging in contact sports and other risky activities. Do safer exercises like walking or swimming instead. Remember to take care of your head! Even if there is a small probability that you will be hit in the head, always wear a helmet.

Make a schedule

Every day, take your medication at the same time. If you are inconsistent, some blood thinners may not operate as intended. To remember yourself, use a pill organiser or the calendar on your smartphone. Take it as soon as you remember if you forget. Don’t miss a dose. Ask your doctor what to do if you don’t know you missed a dosage until the next day.

Be familiar with your medication

Ask your doctor or pharmacist whether any new prescription or over-the-counter medications are safe to take with your blood thinner before bringing them home. Even vitamins and supplements have the ability to alter the effectiveness of some blood thinners or heighten their adverse effects. Your risk of bleeding may increase, for instance, if you take an aspirin-containing painkiller or cold remedy.

Be cautious when cutting

Blood thinners can cause a minor injury to bleed excessively. When using knives, garden shears, or other pointed instruments, put on gloves. When shaving, exercise additional caution. If you can, use an electric razor to avoid self-nicking. Keep your nail trimmings away from the skin wherever possible.

If you do cut yourself, apply pressure on the area until the blood stops flowing. If not, seek medical attention.

Take note of your Vitamin K intake

Warfarin, a common blood thinner, can become ineffective if used too much. Moreover, foods high in vitamin K include spinach, lettuce, and brussels sprouts. Warfarin is not contraindicated with these meals, but you should discuss with your doctor how much of them is safe for you to eat.

Keep your doctors updated

Inform all of your medical professionals that you use blood thinners, especially before any procedures or if you receive a new prescription. They must be aware of your elevated risk of bleeding.

To let emergency medical personnel know that you are in danger of bleeding as well, wear a medical ID bracelet or tag. On a card that you keep in your wallet or purse, write down the name of your drug.

Take Care of Your Teeth

Because your gums are tender, brush your mouth gently. Don’t scrub. Instead, use a gentle toothbrush. Select some waxed dental floss, and carefully slide it between your teeth. Be sure to tell your dentist if you take blood thinners. During checkups, they’ll take extra precautions, and they might also give you drugs to stop bleeding during dental work.

To sum up, if you or someone you are caring for is prescribed to take blood thinners, it is crucial to follow the doctor’s advice carefully. When taking blood thinners, be cautious around cuts and wounds. Blood thinners can increase bleeding after a wound and turn minor bleeding into serious bleeding. Do not hesitate to ask your doctor questions for further clarification.

How do you respond to an emergency situation like bleeding? Are you qualified to provide first aid? If you’d like to be first aid certified at Level 1/174 Gilles St, Adelaide 5000, contact CPR First Aid (RTO 21903) and let us walk you through your certification from start to finish.

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