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Blood thinners are medicines that help prevent blood clots. Although they are called blood thinners, they don't really thin the blood. They slow down the time it takes for a blood clot to form.
You have to be careful when you take blood thinner medicines. They can raise the risk of serious bleeding. But you can do some simple things to help prevent problems.
This Actionset is about all blood-thinner medicines except warfarin (Coumadin). There are some extra steps you have to take if you take warfarin. To learn more, see Warfarin: Taking Your Medicine Safely.
How do you take blood thinner medicine safely?
You can take blood thinner medicine safely by taking a few steps:
- Know the signs of bleeding.
- Tell your doctors and dentist about all the medicines you take.
- Talk to your doctors about surgeries and tests.
- Prevent falls and injuries.
1. Know the signs of bleeding.
Call 911 or other emergency services right away if:
- 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 now or seek immediate medical care if you have any abnormal bleeding, such as:
- You cough up blood.
- You vomit blood or what looks like coffee grounds.
- Your stools are black and look like tar or have streaks of blood.
- You have a nosebleed that doesn't stop quickly.
- You have blood in your urine.
- Vaginal bleeding that is different (heavier, more frequent, at a different time of the month) than what you are used to.
- You have new bruises or blood spots under your skin without a known cause. (With shots, bruising is normal around an injection site.)
If you are injured, apply pressure to stop 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.
2. Tell your doctors about all your medicines, and take your medicines properly.
Give your list of medicines to every doctor and dentist who treats you. Taking certain medicines along with a blood thinner can cause bleeding. It also can change how well your medicines work.
To avoid problems:
- Tell your doctor about all of the prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, antibiotics, and natural health products that you take.
- Make and go to all appointments and tests. Call your doctor if you are having problems with your medicine.
- Don't take aspirin and other pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (for example, Motrin), unless your doctor tells you to take them and when and how to take them.
- Don't take other medicines before talking to your doctor or pharmacist first. This includes prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, and natural health products.
- Take your medicine at the same time of day, as prescribed.
- If you take several medicines, use a daily medicine planner ( What is a PDF document? ) to keep track of them. It's a list of every medicine and vitamin you take, along with when and how often you take each one.
- Store your medicine the right way. A few medicines must be stored in their original containers so they don't spoil. If your medicine label has this instruction, then don't use a pillbox for that medicine.
- Talk to your doctor about what to do if you miss a dose of your blood thinner.
- Wear medical alert jewellery. This lets others know that you take a blood thinner.
If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or trying to get pregnant, talk with your doctor. You and your doctor will decide what medicines are safe for you during pregnancy. Do not use any medicines unless your doctor tells you to.
To learn more about taking aspirin safely, see Aspirin to Prevent Heart Attack and Stroke.
3. Talk to your doctors about surgeries and tests.
Talk with your doctor about whether you need to stop taking your blood thinner for a short time before any surgery or medical or dental procedure. Your doctor will tell you when it is safe to start taking your medicine again.
4. Prevent falls and injuries.
If you have a high risk of falling, make these changes in your life to prevent falls:
- Wear slippers or shoes that have non-skid soles.
- Use a cane or walker if you need one.
- Put things within easy reach so that you don't need to reach over your head for them.
- Keep a cordless phone and a flashlight with new batteries by your bed.
Make these changes in your home to prevent falls:
- Remove raised doorway thresholds, throw rugs, and clutter.
- Rearrange furniture and electrical cords to keep them out of walking paths.
- Keep stairways, porches, and outside walkways well lit. Use night-lights in hallways and bathrooms.
- Install sturdy handrails on stairways. Install grab handles and non-skid mats inside and outside your shower or tub and near the toilet.
- Add extra light switches if needed or use remote switches, such as sound-activated switches, on lights by doors and near your bed. Then you won't have to get up quickly to turn on the light or walk across the room in the dark.
- Repair loose carpet or raised areas in the floor that may cause you to trip.
- Use shower chairs and bath benches.
- Use non-skid floor wax. Wipe up spills right away, especially on ceramic tile floors.
- If you live in an area that gets snow and ice in the winter, have a family member or friend sprinkle salt or sand on slippery steps and sidewalks.
To prevent injuries, be careful with your activities:
- Choose activities that have a lower risk of injury, such as swimming and walking. Try to avoid activities or sports that put you at risk of injury. But if you take part in activities that carry a risk of falling or injury, be as safe as possible and wear protective equipment, such as helmets.
- Be extra careful when you work with sharp tools or power tools, such as saws.
- Use an electric razor, not a razor blade.
- Use waxed dental floss and a toothbrush with soft bristles.
- When you work outside, wear clothing that protects you, such as gloves, shoes, and long sleeves.
Other Works Consulted
- Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (2010). Blood Thinner Pills: Your Guide to Using Them Safely (AHRQ Publication No. 09-0086-C). Rockville, MD: Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Available online: http://www.ahrq.gov/consumer/btpills.htm.