7 Things to Know About Taking Blood Thinners Safely

If you’ve been diagnosed with an abnormal heart rhythm, such as atrial fibrillation or afib, your doctor may recommend taking blood thinners, also called anticoagulants. These medications reduce the blood’s ability to clot, lowering your risk of stroke.

Your body creates clots to stop you from bleeding. If you fall or bump your head while taking a blood thinner, you may have internal bleeding – even if there’s no external sign you’ve been hurt.

Dr. Matthew Cozart with Mercy Clinic Cardiology has 7 things you should know about blood thinners.

  1. They can make you feel green. Aside from bleeding-related issues, there are several side effects that have been linked to blood thinners, such as nausea and low counts of cells in your blood. Low blood cell count can cause fatigue, weakness, dizziness and shortness of breath.
  2. Be careful mixing medications. Some antibiotics and anti-fungal medications can make blood thinners more potent and increase the risk of bleeding. Talk to your Mercy doctor before you combine any medicines – including over-the-counter – or supplements.
  3. Tell all of your health care providers that you’re taking blood thinners. Even your dentist. If you use different pharmacies, make sure all your pharmacists know.
  4. Never skip a dose. Always take your blood thinner as directed by your doctor. Some need to be taken every day at the same time. Don’t skip a dose and don’t double up. If you miss one, take it as soon as you remember. If you don’t remember until the next day, call your doctor. Try using a daily pillbox to help keep you on track.
  5. Watch for evidence of internal bleeding. Slow bleeding can cause fatigue, shortness of breath, pale skin color and black, tarry-looking stools. Rapid bleeding can cause stroke symptoms or abdominal and back pain, depending on where you’re bleeding.
  6. Take it easy. It’s important to take precautions to minimize the risk of falls or trauma that could potentially cause significant bleeding. Talk to your doctor about whether it’s okay to participate in activities that are higher risk, such as snow skiing or mountain biking.
  7. Avoid drinking alcohol. Your liver is responsible for processing alcohol and some medications. If it’s breaking down alcohol instead of the blood thinner, the level of medicine in your blood can increase.

There are lots of options for blood thinners.  Your doctor will take into account your health history, age, weight and kidney and liver function before determining which blood thinner might work best for you.

Warfarin is usually well tolerated and inexpensive, but you must monitor how thin your blood is with frequent lab work. Some foods also decrease its effectiveness, so it’s important to keep your diet consistent. New oral anticoagulants, or NOACs, don’t require regular blood work or diet management. However, they can’t be taken with certain heart valve problems.

Some people worry about bruising while taking blood thinners. Dr. Cozart says while this can be concerning, it’s usually not dangerous and is just an unfortunate side effect of a medication that is providing important protection from stroke.

Talk to your Mercy doctor about which blood thinner, if any, is right for you.

Matthew Cozart, MD, is a fellowship-trained interventional cardiologist at Mercy Clinic Cardiology in Rogers, AR, and Bella Vista, AR. To schedule an appointment in Rogers, call 479-338-4400. For Bella Vista, call 479-802-5588.