8 safety tips when taking blood thinners

When taking blood-thinning medication for deep vein thrombosis remember to keep these important tips in mind.

23 February 2015
by Wendy Maritz

Blood thinners are typically prescribed after a heart attack or stroke, or to pre-empt these from happening in people who are at risk of either condition, explains pharmacist Waheed Abdurahman, senior category manager for over-the-counter medication at Clicks Pharmacy in Cape Town. “They may also be prescribed pre-emptively to prevent blood clots from forming during pregnancy or to prevent deep vein thrombosis in those undertaking long-haul flights,” he adds. If you are taking blood thinners, such as warfarin, it’s important to remember the following:

  1. Blood thinners are anticoagulants, which means the blood takes longer to clot, so the most important consideration is that there is an increased risk of bleeding. So, ensure your environment is safe, take care when exercising, and look after your skin (when shaving, for instance) and mouth (when flossing or brushing your teeth).
  2. They may also interact with other prescription and non-prescription medications that are taken concomitantly, warns Abdurahman, including anti-inflammatories, aspirin and anti-epileptic drugs. It’s important to keep your healthcare providers (doctor, pharmacist, dentist, etcetera) informed of what medication you’re taking.
  3. Always adhere to the prescribed dose – do not exceed or reduce the amount.
  4. You may be required to go for regular INR testing (a test to measure how long it takes for your blood to clot) – this is to ensure you are taking the correct dosage. The INR test results will be analysed by your doctor who will adjust your dose if necessary.
  5. Certain foods may reduce the efficacy of blood thinners, explains Abdurahman. “One has to be cautious with vitamin K-rich foods, such as spinach and broccoli or vitamin supplements high in vitamin K, as these can reduce the effect of the prescribed blood thinner,” he says. Speak to your doctor or a dietician if you have any diet- or supplement-related questions. It’s also best to avoid alcohol if you’re on blood thinners.
  6. Never share medication with anyone else, even if they have the same condition as you. Blood thinners must be prescribed by your doctor.
  7. Always keep medication locked safely away from children.
  8. Seek medical attention if you:
  • Have excessive bruising on your skin.
  • Have blood in your stools.
  • Are coughing up blood.
  • Experience a heavy menstrual period that lasts longer than usual.
  • Have red or brown-coloured urine.
  • Have frequent nose or gum bleeds.
  • Experience severe stomach cramps, severe headache, numbness or weakness.