Anticoagulants are medicines that help prevent blood clots. They're given to people at ahigh risk ofgetting clots, to reduce their chances of developingserious conditions such as strokes and heart attacks.

A Arterial thrombosis 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 organssuch as the brain, heart or lungsif 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, althoughthey don't actually make the blood thinner.

Although they're used for similar purposes, anticoagulants are different to antiplatelet medicines, such as low-dose aspirin and clopidogrel .

Types of anticoagulants

The most commonly prescribedanticoagulantis warfarin .

Newer types of anticoagulants are also available and are becoming increasingly common. These include:

  • rivaroxaban(Xarelto)
  • dabigatran(Pradaxa)
  • apixaban (Eliquis)
  • edoxaban (Lixiana)

Warfarin and the newer alternatives are taken as tablets or capsules. There's also an anticoagulant called heparin that can be givenby injection.

Whenanticoagulants areused

If a blood clot blocks the flow of blood through a blood vessel, the affected part of the body will become starved of oxygen and will stop working properly.

Depending on where the clot forms, this can lead to serious problems such as:

  • strokes or transient ischaemic attacks ("mini-strokes")
  • heart attacks
  • deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • pulmonary embolism

Treatment with anticoagulants may be recommended if your doctor feels you're at an increased risk of developing one of these problems. This may be because you've had blood clots in the past or you've been diagnosed with a condition such as atrial fibrillation that can cause blood clots to form.

You may also be prescribed ananticoagulant if you've recently had surgery, as the period of rest and inactivity you need during your recovery can increase your risk of developing a blood clot.

In many cases, treatment will be lifelong.

If you're unsure how to take your medicine, or are worried that you missed a dose or have taken too much, check the patient information leaflet that comes with it orask your GP, anticoagulant clinic or pharmacist what to do. You can also call NHS 111 for advice.

If you're going to have surgery or a test such as an endoscopy , make sure your doctor or surgeon is aware that you're taking anticoagulants, as you may have to stop taking them fora short time.

Speak to your GP, anticoagulant clinic or pharmacist before taking any other medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as some medications can affect how your anticoagulant works.

If you're taking warfarin, you'll also need to avoid making significant changes to what you normally eat and drink, as this can affect your medication.

Mostanticoagulant medicines aren't suitable forpregnant women. Speak to your GPor anticoagulant clinicif you become pregnant or are planning to try for a baby while taking anticoagulants.


Side effects of anticoagulants

Like all medicines, there's a risk of experiencing side effects while taking anticoagulants.

The main side effect is that you can bleedtoo easily, which cancause problems such as:

  • passing blood in your urine
  • passing blood when you poo or having black poo
  • severe bruising
  • prolonged nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • vomiting blood or coughing up blood
  • heavy periods in women

For most people, the benefits of taking anticoagulants will outweigh the risk of excessive bleeding.


Content supplied by the NHS Website

Medically Reviewed by a doctor on 4 Jan 2017