Questions & Answers About Atrial Fibrillation

At a Glance: Blood Thinners Prevent Stroke in Atrial Fibrillation

Blood Clots in Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart beat that can put you at risk for a blood clot to the brain, called a stroke. Blood thinners protect you from stroke when you are in atrial fibrillation, also called a fib.

Blood Thinners

Blood thinners are anti-clotting medication. When you start taking blood thinners, they are usually given first by needle or injection into your vein or belly with a blood thinner in pill form given on the same days as the injection for about 5 days. When you take warfarin or Coumadin®, you will need a blood test called an INR, to see how well your blood thinner is working and to make sure your dose is just right. Normal INR is usually between 2.0 and 3.0. Newer blood thinner pills do not need blood tests, nor do injected blood thinners when given alone.

Blood Thinner Benefits:

  • Stop clots from getting bigger                                                                     
  • Stop other clots from forming
  • Stop clots or pieces of clots from traveling to your brain
  • Limit complications from blood clots such as stroke

Blood Thinner Risks:

  • Bleeding or unusual bruising

Length of Blood Thinner Treatment

You will likely be on blood thinners for life to prevent stroke.

How to Make Sure Your Blood Thinner Pill is Working

  • Get your INR tested, usually every few days when you start blood thinner pills such as warfarin or Coumadin®, and every few weeks when your INR stays normal. You can go to a lab, or learn to self-test INR at home.
  • Keep your appointments with your doctor and lab to make sure your INR stays normal.
  • Keep in mind that your INR may change with a different dose of warfarin, when you eat uneven amounts of dark green vegetables, take other prescribed or over-the- counter medication, or are ill. There is no need for blood testing or watching how many vegetables you eat if you take newer blood thinners.

What You Can Do to Prevent Complications of a Blood Clot

  • Take your blood thinners and have your INR tested as often as your doctor suggests, if you take warfarin
  • Avoid extreme sports, and wear a helmet to prevent head injury when active
  • Remove throw rugs and use bright lighting to prevent falls at home.

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