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Anticoagulation Therapy

Some patients are prescribed an anticoagulant. This medication prevents and reduces risk of blood clots from forming in patients who are at risk. Clots can cause serious and life-threatening complications such as stroke or heart attack.

It is important to continue this medication as long as prescribed by your physician. Ask your physician if you are not sure why you have been prescribed anticoagulation therapy. You should never stop anticoagulation therapy without discussing with the prescribing physician first.

Learn more about safety considerations, possible side effects, medication interactions, and anticoagulant therapy medications.

Conditions that require anticoagulation therapy include:

  • Certain artificial heart valves
  • Irregular beat of the heart
  • Atrial fibrillation
  • Blood clots in vein
  • Deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • Blood clots in lungs
  • Pulmonary embolism (PE)
  • Blood clots in the heart
  • After orthopedic surgery
  • Certain blood disorders

Safety Considerations When You Return Home

If you experience uncontrolled bleeding, call 911 or go to the emergency department for immediate medical attention.

Communicate with Your Caregivers

  • Make sure all your physicians and health care providers know you are on anticoagulation therapy. Provide them most current list of all the medications you are taking at each visit. The list should include the names, the dose, how often you take each one and the last dose taken.
  • Inform your physician if you:
    • have liver disease, peptic ulcer disease, history of bleeding or blood disorders, kidney disease, congestive heart failure, high blood pressure, diabetes, any type of infection or any other medical condition.
    • have recently had a fall or other injury.
    • become pregnant or are breastfeeding.
  • Carry an ID card or wear a medical alert bracelet to let any emergency caregivers know you are taking anticoagulant medications.

Take Your Medication as Prescribed and Don't Miss Doses

  • It is important to take the anticoagulant as prescribed and directed. Following directions on how to take the medication is important for your safety.
  • Get your refills on time and make sure you do not run out of your medication.
  • Missing doses increases the risk of having a blood clot. If you forget or miss a dose, DO NOT take two doses at the same time or extra doses. Contact your prescriber for their recommendation.
  • It is very important to take this medication at the same time/times each day to keep the amount of this medication in blood consistent.
  • Do not share any medication prescribed for you.

Exercise Caution and Get Follow-Up Care

  • You may bleed more easily while on anticoagulants. Stay away from contact sports or other situations where you could be bruised, cut, or injured. Brush and floss your teeth gently. Be careful when using sharp objects, including razors and fingernail clippers. Avoid picking your nose. If you need to blow your nose, blow it gently.
  • Alcohol affects your liver and may affect anticoagulation medications. You should discuss with your physician or health care providers if you have questions or concerns.
  • Keep all medications safely and properly stored, out of reach of children.
  • Follow-up monitoring is very important. Your physician or health care provider may need to check your blood at regular intervals while you are using anticoagulant therapy. Be sure to keep all appointments and always bring your current medication list.

Stay Informed

  • Always review the drug information provided by your pharmacist or caregivers for all your medications.
  • It is important to understand the potential for adverse drug reactions and interactions. This includes drug and food interactions for the medications you take and diet you follow.

This information does not take the place of talking with your doctor about your medical condition or your treatment.

Possible Side Effects of Anticoagulants

Call your physician and consider emergency medical care if you notice any of these side effects:

  • Tingling in your mouth or throat, chest tightness, trouble breathing
  • Persistent bleeding from your gums, nose or a wound, bruising easily, or coughing up blood
  • Persistent abdominal pain or burning
  • Serious fall, or hit on the head
  • Sudden dizziness, changes in vision or severe headache
  • Bloody or black, tarry stools or blood in urine
  • Throw up that looks like coffee grounds
  • Yellowing of your skin or the whites of your eyes
  • Other serious symptoms or changes in health

Potentially less serious side effects include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or upset stomach
  • Mild headache or body pains

Some Medications Interact with Anticoagulants

Many medications, including prescription, herbals and over-the-counter (OTC) medications may interact with anticoagulant medications. Always inform your physician(s) about all medications you are taking as well as when to stop or start any medications. If you have questions, contact your physician(s), health care provider or pharmacist.

How to Take Care of a Cut

  • Hold direct pressure over the cut with gauze or a clean tissue.
  • Elevate the cut to that it is above your heart.
  • After 10 minutes of continuous pressure, check to see if the cut is still bleeding, apply an over-the-counter product to seal the wound.
  • If bleeding doesn’t stop or bleeding is heavy, and wound is large, deep, and/or dirty seek immediate medical attention.

If you experience uncontrolled bleeding, call 911 or go to the emergency department for immediate medical attention.

Learning About Anticoagulant Medications

There are different anticoagulant medications available. Your physician or health care provider will prescribe an anticoagulant that is right for you, based on your medical condition(s). Some are primarily used while in the hospital and some are used both in and out of the hospital. One common medication is warfarin.

Comprehensive information is available for each of these medications while in the hospital and from your pharmacy after you leave the hospital. This information should be reviewed with your care givers to understand dosing, route, drug to drug and food to drug interactions, the requirement for follow-up lab tests, side effects or any questions you may have about these medications.

*This page is not intended to provide all the information you may need to know for every type of anticoagulation medication. It is important to review the medication information you receive from your doctors, pharmacists and other care providers.

Learn more from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.