Before certain medications were invented, infections like strep throat and illnesses like diabetes were deadly. Now, people around the world benefit from life-saving medications every single day.
When blood thinners joined that list of life-saving medications, certain heart conditions became more manageable and less life-threatening. More than two million people take blood thinners every day to prevent blood clots. If you’re one of them, you know the power of these little pills.
Blood thinners have two jobs: to prevent blood clots from forming and to keep existing ones from getting bigger. These blood clots — if they make it to your heart or your brain — can block off blood flow, causing a heart attack or stroke.
- About half of all Americans have at least one of the three risk factors for heart disease (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking).
- Nearly 1 in 3 Americans has at least one of the risk factors for stroke (high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, obesity, and diabetes).
- About every 40 seconds, one American will have a stroke and another will have a heart attack.
- Over 90 million Americas are living with heart disease or the after-effects of a stroke.
- 750,000 Americans die from heart disease or stroke every year.
5 Fast Facts about Heart Attacks and Stroke
You may have been prescribed blood thinners for a number of conditions, including:
- Heart and blood vessel diseases
- Atrial fibrillation (abnormal heart rhythm)
- Heart valve replacement
- Blood clot risk from a recent surgery
- Congenital heart defects (problems with the structure of the heart)
Like all medications, blood thinners need to be taken correctly in order to avoid any risks or complications. No matter the reason you’re taking them, it’s important you know how to use your blood thinners safely.
Here are 5 things to know about taking blood thinners.
1. Your medication instructions are there for a reason.
You can ignore the directions on how to put your IKEA bookshelf together — but don’t ignore the instructions on how to take your blood thinners.
Your blood thinners may be less effective and more dangerous if you don’t take them as prescribed, including the frequency and dosage.
It’s very important that you don’t skip a dose of your blood thinners. If you do miss a dose — and you remember the same day — take it right away, but don’t take two doses in the same day
If you don’t remember that you’ve missed a dose until the next day, call your physician for instructions. If they’re not available, you can skip your missed dose and start up again the next day — but make sure you mark your missed dose down somewhere so you can inform your physician.
The best way to avoid complications is to find a system that works for you. Whether that’s using a pillbox, setting a reminder on your phone, or checking it off on your calendar — it’s up to you to make your blood thinners safe and effective in keeping you healthy.
2. Other medications can change the way your blood thinner works.
Your blood thinners impact the way your body works — and so do other medications. Sometimes medications can conflict with one another, making them less effective or even dangerous.
Your physician should know all of the medications you’re taking, including any you were taking before your blood thinners. This includes:
- Other prescription medications
- Over-the-counter medications, such as aspirin, other pain relievers, and cold medications
- Vitamins and other supplements, such as garlic
- Herbal products, such as green tea or ginkgo biloba
The benefits of blood thinners can be life-changing. They can also be strengthened or weakened by other medications, which can lead to serious complications. Keep an up-to-date list of your medications, and make sure you let your physician know if it ever changes.
3. Your diet can affect your blood thinner’s effectiveness.
A salad full of spinach or kale may be healthy — and delicious — but if you’re taking blood thinners, you’ll need to keep an eye on foods that contain a lot of Vitamin K, such as leafy greens.
Too much Vitamin K can make blood thinners less effective. Foods that are high in Vitamin K include:
- Leafy green vegetables
- Canola or soybean oil
That doesn’t mean you should completely ditch your favorite salad or boycott sushi. However, be sure to talk to your physician if you have a particularly high level of these foods in your diet.
In addition to food, you should not drink alcohol while taking blood thinners, as it can reduce their effectiveness.
4. All of your physicians need to know you’re taking blood thinners.
You’ll see the physician that prescribed your blood thinners frequently to make sure they’re working as they should. However, they’re not the only health care provider that will provide you with medical care while you’re taking blood thinners.
From primary care physicians to dermatologists to dentists, you’ll probably set foot in another medical professional’s office at some point. Those health care providers also need to be aware that you’re taking blood thinners because they can interact with other medications in a dangerous way.
Make sure all of your pharmacy locations have an up-to-date list of your medications, too. It may be helpful to keep a list of your current medications on a card in your purse or wallet, so it’s ready to go for your next appointment or medication pick-up.
5. Blood thinners can make your injuries worse.
While blood thinners don’t actually make your blood less thick, they do impact its ability to clot. Blood thinners help keep your blood from forming a dangerous clot that goes to your heart or brain — but they may also impact your blood’s ability to clot and heal injuries, such as a cut or bruise. While taking blood thinners, you may bruise more easily, get the occasional nosebleed, or find that cuts take a little longer to stop bleeding.
This doesn’t mean that you need to go out and bubble wrap your entire body, but you should take some extra precautions, such as:
- Being careful with sharp objects, such as scissors, knives, and razors
- Avoiding activities that may cause injury, like contact sports
- Wearing protective gear, such as gloves during yard work and a helmet while bicycling
- Making little changes, such as using a soft toothbrush or wearing shoes as much as possible
- Going to the hospital for any head injuries, even if you are not visibly bleeding
You don’t need to change your entire life around while taking blood thinners. You can still do many of the things that you enjoy — just with a little extra care.
Living Your Best Life with Blood Thinners
Routine medications like blood thinners may require some adjustments — but they may also save your life. You might need to cut out your daily mug of green tea and avoid certain activities, but these small steps are important to ensure your blood thinners are able to keep you healthy and safe.
Remember, these changes are simple and effective — and much easier than recovering from a heart attack or stroke.
Still have questions about blood thinners? Call (785) 270-4440 to make an appointment with a primary care physician or (785) 270-4000 to visit the Cotton O’Neil Heart Center to get your questions about blood thinners answered.