Living Your Best Life While Taking Blood Thinners
Don’t Let Nuisance Bleeding Worry You
More than eight million people in the United States are currently taking a blood thinner (anticoagulant) medication. The reasons for using blood thinning medications vary from person to person, but one thing is common to all people who take them: Blood thinners are a lifesaving medications, but bleeding risks must be effectively managed. Fortunately, there are ways to avoid and quickly stop non-life-threatening or “nuisance” bleeding.
Blood Thinner Medications Save Lives
Blood thinning medications come in two forms – a pill that is taken by mouth, or by an injection of the medication. Both types of blood thinning medications affect the body’s ability to make clots. Blood thinners can stop clots from forming, slow down the formation of clots, stop clots from getting bigger, or prevent clots that have already formed from traveling to other parts of the body.
Blood clots do play an important role in sealing up wounds when we cut ourselves or suffer other injuries, but when blood clots form in the blood stream, they can be very dangerous to a person’s health. The most common reasons for a healthcare provider to prescribe a blood thinning medication include:
- A person has an irregular heartbeat and is at risk for developing a clot that can cause stroke
- A person has a blood clot in their leg that can travel to the lung and prevent breathing
- A person has a blood clot in their lung that can prevent breathing
- A person had a serious injury or is having surgery, which can cause blood clots to form in the legs or lungs
- A person had a heart attack and is at risk to develop a clot in the heart that can travel to other parts of the body
- A person has a mechanical heart valve and is at risk to develop a clot in the heart that can travel to other parts of the body
COMMON RISK: BLEEDING
Blood thinning medications do save lives, because they can treat or prevent dangerous blood clots. But, they also pose one possible and very serious side effect: Bleeding. Since blood thinners slow the clotting of blood, unwanted and sometimes dangerous bleeding can occur with the use of these medications.
A person who takes blood thinners should tell their healthcare provider about any bleeding or unusual bruising they experience, as well as any serious falls or a hard bump to the head. Although infrequent, bleeding caused by blood thinners can be very serious or life-threatening, like bleeding into the brain or stomach. Serious or life-threatening bleeding requires immediate medical attention.
Most of the time though, bleeding caused by blood thinners is not serious or life-threatening – like, for example, bleeding after a skin tear from yard work. Bleeding like this is less serious, but can still be troublesome and inconvenient, and it can seriously impact the quality of a person’s day-to-day life.
- Frequent nosebleeds, or nosebleeds that last longer than five minutes
- A small cut while shaving with a razor might bleed longer than normal, or for more than five minutes
- A minor cut, laceration, or skin tear that may bleed for a long time
While this type of nuisance bleeding is not life-threatening, more than half of all emergency room visits among people who take blood thinners are for nosebleeds and other types of nuisance bleeding caused by superficial wounds to the skin. Most importantly, nuisance bleeding is also frequently to blame when people stop taking their blood thinning medication as directed by their healthcare provider, which puts them at risk again for the development of dangerous or life-threatening blood clots that can result in hospitalization and added healthcare costs.
HOW TO MANAGE NUISANCE BLEEDING
- People who take blood thinners can still engage in most of the activities that they enjoy. They just need to take some extra precautions and, for example:
- Be cautious about activities, such as high-risk sports, that may result in injury, and always wear proper safety gear, for example, a bike helmet when cycling
- Wear protective gloves when working with tools, such as gardening shears or other sharp instruments
- Be careful when trimming hair or nails
- Use a soft toothbrush
- Wear shoes to avoid cuts on feet
No matter how cautious a person might be, accidents can happen, and nuisance bleeding might still occur. When it does, there are several products, including special bandages, wound dressings, gels, and powders that can be used to help stop nuisance bleeding more quickly. Special bandages or wound dressings, like BloodStop® and the QuickClot® clotting sponge, are applied to superficial wounds to help control bleeding until medical attention can be provided, or to help stop bleeding more quickly. Also, there are products like Celox™ that form a protective gel cover over wounds to stop bleeding. There are also powders, like WoundSeal®, that can be poured onto the skin or site of superficial bleeding to quickly form an instant scab to stop bleeding in just a few seconds. WoundSeal can also be used with a special applicator to stop nose bleeds. Products like these are available without a prescription and can be found online or at most local pharmacies. They do not depend on or interfere with the blood’s natural clotting mechanism to be effective, so they can be used safely by people who are taking blood thinning medications.
Blood thinning medications save lives. People who take these medications can avoid or reduce bleeding risks by taking their blood thinning medication as directed by their doctor, and, when taking the oral blood thinning medication warfarin, by having their blood monitored regularly. People who take blood thinners should report any bleeding or unusual bruising to their healthcare provider. Some bleeding can be life-threatening and requires immediate medical attention. Some bleeding is superficial and not life-threatening, but can still be a nuisance. When nuisance bleeding does occur, over-the-counter products can help stop bleeding quickly and safely.
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