Anticoagulant and antiplatelet drugs

Anticoagulant drugs help prevent harmful clots from forming in blood vesselsby decreasing the blood's ability to clot. Although these drugs are sometimescalled blood thinners, they do not actually thin the blood. Furthermore, this type of medicine will not dissolve clots that already have formed, althoughthe drug stops an existing clot from worsening.

Anticoagulant drugs are used in several situations. For example, they may begiven to prevent blood clots from forming after the replacement of a heart valve or to reduce the risk of a stroke or another heart attack after a first heart attack. They are also used to reduce the chance of blood clots forming during open heart surgery or bypass surgery. Low doses of these drugs may be given to prevent blood clots in patients who must stay in bed for a long timeafter certain kinds of surgery.

Anticoagulant drugs, also called antiplatelet drugs, anticlotting drugs, andblood thinners, are available only with a physician's prescription. They comein tablet and injectable forms. Some commonly used anticoagulant drugs are dicumarol, warfarin (Coumadin), dipyridamole (Persantine), enoxaparin (Lovenox) and heparin.

A physician must know about any existing medical conditions before prescribing anticoagulant drugs, because they can be dangerous in combination with certain conditions. Persons who take anticoagulants should see a physician regularly while taking these drugs. The physician will order periodic blood tests to check the blood's clotting ability.

These drugs can increase the risk of severe bleeding and heavy blood loss. Because of this risk, anyone taking an anticoagulant drug must take care to avoid injuries. Sports and other potentially hazardous activities should be avoided. Any falls, blows to the body or head, or other injuries should be reported to a physician, as internal bleeding may occur without any obvious symptoms.

The most common minor side effects of anticoagulant medicines are bloating orgas. These problems usually go away as the body adjusts to the drug and do not require medical treatment. More serious side effects may occur, especiallyif too much of this medicine is taken. Anyone who has unusual symptoms whiletaking anticoagulant drugs should get in touch with his or her physician.

People who are taking anticoagulant drugs should tell all medical professionals who provide medical treatments or services to them that they are taking this medicine. They should also carry identification stating that they are using an anticoagulant drug.

Other prescriptions or over-the-counter medicine-- especially aspirin--shouldnot be taken without checking with the physician who prescribed the anticoagulant drug.

Diet also affects the way anticoagulant drugs work in the body. The reason that diet is so important is that vitamin K affects how the anticoagulant drugswork. Vitamin K is found in meats, dairy products, leafy, green vegetables,and some multiple vitamins and nutritional supplements. For the drugs to workproperly, it is best to have the same amount of vitamin K in the body all the time.

Alcohol can change the way anticoagulant drugs affect the body. Anyone who takes these drugs should not have more than 1-2 drinks at any time and should not drink alcohol every day.

Anyone who has had unusual reactions to anticoagulants in the past should lethis or her physician know before taking the drugs again. The physician should also be told about any allergies to foods; dyes; preservatives; or other substances.

Anticoagulants may cause many serious problems if taken during pregnancy. Birth defects, severe bleeding in the fetus, and other problems are possible. The mother may also experience severe bleeding if she takes anticoagulants during pregnancy, during delivery, or even shortly after delivery. Some anticoagulant drugs may pass into breast milk.

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