Deep Vein Thrombosis Treatment Anticoagulants

An anticoagulant is anything that prevents blood from clotting. Clotting is a necessary function of blood. If blood does not clot properly, a person can bleed excessively when an injury occurs. This can lead to extreme blood loss and even death. However, in some cases, it is beneficial to interrupt the clotting process.

Anticoagulant drugs are commonly used to prevent deep vein thrombosis, or DVT. DVT occurs when a small blood clot forms in a vein, usually in the deep veins of the legs. If this clot breaks free and travels to the heart or lungs, a pulmonary embolism can occur, which can cause death.

What Causes DVT?

Nearly 500,000 hospitalized patients develop DVT each year. This is often a result of surgery or immobility following surgery. In addition, the following can increase your risk of DVT:

  • deep vein injury from some type of trauma (including surgery)
  • increased blood clotting due to autoimmune disorders, certain types of cancers, etc.
  • poor blood circulation due to heart failure, long periods of immobilization, etc.

Types of Anticoagulant Drugs

Anticoagulant drugs come in several forms. There are natural anticoagulants, such as natural heparin, which are administered intravenously. Heparin inhibits the production of thrombin, which is a clotting agent. Heparin is most often for short-term use, such as after leg or hip surgery.

Anticoagulant drugs also come in pill form. One such anticoagulant is Coumadin®, which works by inhibiting the production of vitamin K in the liver. Since vitamin K is necessary for normal blood clotting, interfering with its metabolism helps inhibit clot formation. This type of anticoagulant can be taken orally for extended periods of time.

Other anticoagulants include:

  • citrate
  • ethylenediamine tetraacetic acid (EDTA)
  • fluoride
  • oxalate.

These are used to prevent blood from clotting in medical equipment, such as in laboratory test tubes and blood transfusion bags. These anticoagulants make calcium ions unavailable in the blood and are often used in combination with heparin.

Side Effects of Anticoagulants

The use of anticoagulants can produce some side effects. After prescribing anticoagulants, a doctor will instruct a patient to be aware of and report any of the following:

  • back and stomach pain
  • blood in stool or urine
  • cold, blue and/or painful hands and feet
  • nose bleeds
  • unusual bruising
  • unusually heavy menstrual periods
  • vomiting, coughing up blood.

Generally, these side effects are mild and don’t require a patient to stop taking anticoagulant drugs. If you experience any side effects, your doctor might perform blood tests to determine if you are receiving too much of the anticoagulant drugs.

Benefits and Risks of Anticoagulants

The benefits of anticoagulant drugs are obvious. Anticoagulants significantly lower a person’s risk of DVT and can prevent a life-threatening pulmonary embolism.

The risks of using anticoagulants are higher in people over the age of 80. These people are at risk for bleeding complications. The risk for bleeding is higher in the first month of anticoagulant therapy than in later months.

To determine if you are at an increased risk for bleeding while on anticoagulants, your doctor will consider multiple factors, including:

  • age
  • amount and frequency of anticoagulant used
  • other medications currently being taken
  • presence of other diseases, such as liver, heart and/or kidney diseases.

Resources

MedicineNet.com. (2007). Definition of Anticoagulant. Retrieved July 19, 2007, from the MedicineNet Web site: http://www.medterms.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=11022.

Medscape.com. (2007). Anticoagulant-Related Bleeding: clinical epidemiology, prediction and prevention. Retrieved July 19, 2007, from the Medscape Web site: http://www.medscape.com/medline/abstract/8368229.

Your-doctor.com. (2004). Deep Venous Thrombosis (DVT). Retrieved July 19, 2007, from the Your-doctor.com Web site: http://your-doctor.com/healthinfocenter/medical-conditions/cardiovascular/cardiac-conditions/vascular-dz/dvt.html.