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What to Know About Blood Thinner Pills

It’s easy to take medicines for granted. When we’re sick, we may take a drug a few times a day to relieve our symptoms. Then, when we’re feeling better, we go back to our daily routine.

But some medicines, such as blood thinner pills, require lifestyle changes. You need to take them at the same time each day, for example, and you need to avoid injuries. These changes are important for you to stay safe and healthy.

Each year, nearly 2 million Americans start taking a blood thinner pill to prevent blood clots from forming in their bloodstream. Blood clots can lead to strokes, heart attacks or other serious health conditions.

If your doctor thinks you are at risk for a blood clot because you can’t move around easily or you’ve had recent surgery or an injury, he may put you on a blood thinner.

How blood thinners work

When taken correctly, blood thinners, also called anticoagulants, help your blood flow more easily to lower your risk of developing dangerous blood clots.

But blood thinners also increase your chance of bleeding. When taking a blood thinner, you need to be careful when going about your daily routine. For example, you should take extra care to avoid getting cuts from sharp instruments, such as knives, tools or other sharp objects. You must also carefully follow your doctor’s instructions about your diet and how much of and how often to take your blood thinner.

A consumer guide

Like learning to drive a car, taking blood thinners will require you to learn and practice several important steps until they become habits. To help patients remember these steps, my agency, the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, recently made a video and produced a consumer guide. These tools will help you get the best results from your blood thinner.

The video describes the “BEST” way for you to remember important tips about blood thinners. BEST stands for:

Be careful. Use caution during activities that put you at risk for getting a cut or bruise. Even a small cut can bleed more than usual. Wear work gloves when working with tools, for example. Avoid high-risk sports or other dangerous activities. And if you do injure yourself, from a fall or hard bump to the head, call your doctor immediately.

Eat right. Your diet can affect how your blood thinner works. Do not eat or drink anything your doctor has told you to avoid. For example, your doctor may advise against foods or drinks high in vitamin K (including leafy green vegetables, vitamins and herbal supplements) because they can interfere with some blood thinners. Most important, keep your diet consistent, both in the type and amount of foods you eat.

Stick to a routine. Take your blood thinner pills at the same time every day. You can have family members remind you, use a pill box or set the alarm on your watch. It’s also important to talk to all of your doctors about all other medicines or supplements you take and to tell your doctors about any changes in your medicines. Remember to talk to your doctor before taking aspirin because it also acts like a blood thinner.

Test regularly. Blood tests let your doctor know if you are getting too much or too little medicine. Your doctor may order an INR blood test. That stands for International Normalized Ratio, which measures the amount of time it takes for your blood to clot. Based on the results, your doctor may need to adjust your dose. It is very important that you have your blood checked regularly if your doctor tells you it’s necessary. Home testing kits are available and covered by Medicare.

Taking a blood thinner does require you to make adjustments in your lifestyle. But just a few changes, followed each day, will ensure you’re getting the benefits you need from this medicine. By following the BEST way and talking with your doctor, you’ll help your blood thinner work well and safely for you.

I’m Dr. Carolyn Clancy, and that’s my opinion on how to navigate the health care system.

Carolyn M. Clancy, a general internist and researcher, is the director of the U.S. Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality.