Anticoagulants work by increasing the time
it takes a blood clot to form. This also prevents a clot from getting
Why It Is Used
In people who have had
pulmonary embolism, anticoagulants are used to prevent
more blood clots from forming and causing another episode of pulmonary
embolism. They are used in the hospital as first treatment of a pulmonary embolism. And they also may be used at home. Treatment with anticoagulants may continue throughout your
life if your risk of having another pulmonary embolism remains high.
Heparin is given as an injection. It immediately affects the clotting system in your body.
Low-molecular-weight heparin (LMWH) as initial treatment is usually preferred because it can be
given as an injection once or twice per day, and it may be given at home,
which allows you to leave the hospital earlier. Blood tests are not usually needed
to monitor LMWH's clotting effect.
Unfractionated heparin is
another form that can be used. It is given in the hospital. Unfractionated
heparin is usually given continuously through your vein (intravenously, or IV),
but it can also be given as an injection under the skin. Frequent blood tests
are used to monitor the clotting effects of this
Warfarin is taken as a pill. Warfarin is usually started while a person is still being treated with heparin because it takes several days for warfarin to build up to a level that's effective. When warfarin is at the right level in your blood, you stop taking heparin shots and keep taking warfarin pills.
Typically, warfarin is given for at least 3 months after pulmonary embolism to reduce the risk of having another blood
clot. If you have a high risk of another pulmonary embolism, you may take warfarin for the rest of your life.
How Well It Works
Anticoagulants are effective in
preventing pulmonary embolism and deep vein thrombosis.
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Usually the benefits of the medicine are more important than any minor side effects.
Side effects may go away after you take the medicine for a while.
If side effects still bother you and you wonder if you should keep taking the medicine, call your doctor. He or she may be able to lower your dose or change your medicine. Do not suddenly quit taking your medicine unless your doctor tells you to.
Bleeding: Call 911 or other emergency services right away if:
You cough up blood.
You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
You pass maroon or very bloody stools.
You have a sudden, severe headache that is different from past headaches. (It may be a sign of bleeding in the brain.)
Call your doctor right away if you have unusual bleeding:
You have new bruises or blood spots under your skin.
You have a nosebleed that doesn't stop quickly.
Your gums bleed when you brush your teeth.
You have blood in your urine.
Your stools are black and look like tar or have streaks of blood.
You have heavy period bleeding or vaginal bleeding when you are not having your period.
If you are injured, apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Realize that it
will take longer than you are used to for the bleeding to stop. If you can't get the bleeding to stop, call your doctor.
Allergic reaction: Call 911 or other emergency services right away if you have:
Swelling of your face, lips, tongue, or throat.
Call your doctor if you have:
Heparin: Side effects often happen at injection sites. These side effects include:
Warfarin: Other side effects include:
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects.
(Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
When you take anticoagulants, you need to take extra steps to avoid bleeding problems.
Warfarin. If you take warfarin, you need to:
Get regular blood tests.
Prevent falls and injuries.
Eat a steady diet, and pay attention to foods that contain vitamin K.
Tell your doctors about all other medicines and vitamins that you take.
Long-term use of heparin is not typically
recommended. It requires one or two injections each day. And long-term use is linked with
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Advice for women
Do not take warfarin if you are pregnant. Warfarin can cause miscarriage or birth defects. If you are taking warfarin, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.
If you think you might be pregnant: Call your doctor. If you are pregnant, you will take heparin during your pregnancy.
If you plan on getting pregnant: Talk with your doctor. You and your doctor will decide which medicine you will take—warfarin or heparin—while trying to get pregnant.
If you are pregnant: You will take heparin during your pregnancy. Heparin has not been shown to affect the fetus.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
How this information was developed to help you make better health decisions.