Anticoagulation therapy makes use of drugs [called anticoagulants] that reduces the body’s ability to form blood clots. These drugs are able to do this by inhibiting the production of Vitamin K in the liver, which in turn, increases the time it takes for your blood takes to clot.
Although these anticoagulants are sometimes called blood thinners, they actually do nothing of the sort. But while they don’t dissolve clots that have already formed, they will help with stopping an existing clot from getting larger.
Uses of Anticoagulation Therapy
There are several reasons why you, or a loved one, might need anticoagulation therapy. Chief among them is the need to reduce the risk that comes with your body developing blood clots that could block blood vessels, thus disrupting the flow of blood around your body.
You may need to be placed on an anticoagulation therapy if you have been treated or diagnosed with any – or all – of the following conditions:
- Strokes– this happens when a blood clot limits the flow of blood to your brain, which in turn causes your brain cells to die and possibly resulting in permanent a brain damage or even death.
- Transient Ischaemic Attacks (TIAs)– commonly referred to as “mini-strokes”, TIAs have similar symptoms to a stroke. However, the effects usually last less than a day.
- Heart attacks– this is usually as a result of a blood clot blocking a blood vessel that is supplying your heart, causing oxygen starvation which results in chest pains and sometimes death.
- Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT)– this condition occurs as a result of a blood clot forming in one of the deep veins in your body, your legs, for example, causing pain and swelling.
- Pulmonary Embolism– a condition where a blood clot blocks one of the blood vessels around the lungs, cutting off the supply of blood to it.
Additional medical conditions that could cause the blood to clot are atrial fibrillation, antiphospholipid syndrome, aortic valve replacement, genetic clotting disorders and a recent hip or knee surgery.
Whether or not you will be placed on an anticoagulation therapy depends on your medical history as related to any of the conditions listed above. But once you begin the therapy, keep in mind that it might only be necessary for you to take the prescribed anticoagulants for a few months.
Sometimes, you might be required to take them for life. Your doctor will be in a better position to tell you how long you will be taking the medications for. But do not stop taking them unless you are told to do so.
Pro Tip -Anticoagulant drugs affect your blood’s ability to clot. So, if you happen to accidentally cut yourself with a sharp object, your bleeding will not stop. Because of this risk, it is advisable to take the medications exactly as prescribed – never take an overdose.
How Anticoagulation Therapy Works
In most cases, anticoagulation therapy is usually started in the hospital and it begins with the administration of anticoagulant medications.
These medications, including Heparin, and Warfarin (Coumadin), are used to prevent blood clotting in people with a variety of health issues. As mentioned earlier, these health issues include strokes, heart attacks, etc.
The way anticoagulants work is very simple. For your blood to clot, you need to have certain proteins present in your blood. Your liver makes these proteins and it requires a lot of Vitamin K to do so. Luckily, many of the foods you eat every day (especially green vegetables and certain oils) contain Vitamin K.
Anticoagulants work against the liver to reduce its ability to use Vitamin K to make these blood clotting proteins, which in turn makes it harder for your blood to clot. And because these medications work so well against Vitamin K, they are often referred to as Vitamin K antagonist (VKA).
Monitoring Your Treatment
Your treatment will be monitored by regular blood tests. The INR results will be recorded in your Anticoagulant Therapy Record Book. The International Normalised Ratio (INR) is a measure of how much time it takes for your blood to clot.
Your anticoagulant dosage depends on the results of your blood test. But one thing is certain – your intake of Vitamin K and anticoagulant drugs must be balanced in relation to the condition you are treating.
Whenever your intake of Vitamin K increases, you will need more anticoagulants to keep your blood from clotting. And if your intake of Vitamin K decreases, your dose of anticoagulant will also be decreased to reduce your risk of bleeding.
Both the amount of vitamin K and anticoagulant in your body tends to rise and fall slowly, usually over the course of several days. So to keep the balance, your doctor must determine the appropriate INR range for you and adjust your anticoagulation therapy accordingly.
Complications of Using Anticoagulation Therapy
It is imperative for you to understand that even with the best monitoring and medication administration, there are numerous risks of anticoagulation therapy every potential patient needs to be aware of.
The risks are twofold;
- If you happen to have overdosed, you are likely to suffer severe, life-threatening bleeding.
- If you happen to be ‘’underdosed’’, your blood will clot and you risk getting a stroke, deep vein thrombosis, pulmonary embolism or similar complications.
Although these risks represent the extremes, overdose on anticoagulants such as Warfarin or Coumadin is very common. The resultant effect is always bleeding and depending on your age and medical history, the bleeding could be fatal.
Signs of anticoagulant overdose include
- Vomiting of blood
- Bleeding gums
- Internal bleeding [hemorrhaging]
- Blood in urine or stools, and
- Excessive bleeding from minor injuries
Internal bleeding usually occurs after a fall. When this happens, and you begin to experience a severe headache, speech impairment or blurred vision, seek medical attention immediately as these are signs of a subdural hematoma [also called internal bleeding]
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Anticoagulant overdose can occur in several ways. This is why it is essential that your treatment is being monitored regularly in order to maintain the right Vitamin K/Anticoagulant medication balance.
However, if you suspect that you, or a loved one, have suffered overdose as a result of the negligence of anticoagulation therapy, then you may be entitled to a full compensation for the damages you have suffered. Your healthcare professional and even the company that manufactured the drug could be held liable.
If you are unsure of how to proceed, then we are ready to help and point you in the right direction. You can reach out to us online or call us at (800) 598-4348 for a FREE, no-strings-attached consultation to discuss your case.