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Monday, September 14, 2009 9:00 AM

Special Report: Blood Thinner Medications

Narrator: Recently, your doctor has prescribed a blood-thinning drug, like Warfarin, for you. And you probably have lots of questions. Well, sit back and relax as over the next few minutes we'll attempt to address some of your concerns and answer many of the questions you may have about the drugs. We'll also introduce you to a strategy for incorporating your blood thinner medication into your daily life. We refer to it as the B.E.S.T., or BEST strategy. So you've recently been prescribed blood thinner pills. Perhaps you've been wondering what these drugs do and why you need to take them. Starting on blood thinners may feel like getting behind the wheel of a car for the first time. You may feel anxious, but rest assured that you are not alone. Each year, nearly two million people just like you start taking blood thinner medicine.

Now let's talk about the drugs themselves. What are blood thinners? What do they do? And why are they used? First the drugs are referred to as anticoagulants. This term can best be understood if we break it up into two parts. First, "anti" means against or to prevent. Second, "coagulant" refers to the process by which a substance, like your blood, forms a clot or a blockage. Blood clots are the clumps that occur when the blood hardens and changes from a liquid to a solid. Normally, clots develop to help stop bleeding after you've been cut or injured. If you've been cut, a clot will usually form that will help stop the bleeding, but not all clots are desirable.

Some clots can form inside your bloodstream. When this happens, the results can be dangerous to your health. So blood thinner pills, also known as anticoagulants, work to help prevent your blood from clotting. This is important because your clinician believes that you are at risk for having a blood clot form in your bloodstream. If the clot breaks loose and gets stuck in a vital blood vessel, it can block the blood flow to important organs in your body, like the heart, brain, or lungs. If a blood clot travels to your heart, you can have a heart attack. If it travels to your brain, it can cause a stroke. If it goes to your lungs, it can cause what's known as a pulmonary embolism, or a blood clot in the lungs. All of these conditions are serious and can lead to death. So taking a blood thinner can possibly save your life.

There are several reasons why your clinician may have put you on a blood thinner. Some of the most common reasons are: An abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation; heart attack; stroke; deep vein thrombosis or DVT; pulmonary embolism or PE; or because you've had recent surgery. Because blood thinner medicine keeps your blood from clotting, it also increases the chances that you could bleed too much. So if you use this drug, it is important that you also be careful in your daily activities. Be careful when doing activities that might put you at risk for getting a cut or bruise. Even a small cut can bleed more than normal because you are taking a blood thinner. Avoid high-risk sports and other potentially dangerous activities. However, you can still enjoy many of the same activities you engaged in before you started taking blood thinner pills. You just need to be a little more cautious. Don't be afraid to discuss your concerns and ask questions of your clinician. He or she can help make sure you take this medicine safely.

One thing to remember is that you will need to schedule a regular blood test to be sure you are not getting too much or too little medicine. The blood tests let the doctor know how much medicine you need. Your doctor will order a blood test called INR. INR stands for International Normalized Ratio. The INR will tell your doctor the amount of time it takes for your blood to clot and whether or not she might need to adjust the dose you are taking. If your INR is too high or too low, your doctor may change the amount of medicine that you take until your INR is within a range that's right for you. Your clinician or health plan will tell you where to go to get your blood tested. It is very important to have your blood checked as often as your clinician tells you to. It is the only way he or she can tell how much medicine you need.

Like most medicines, blood thinner pills can have side effects. Some of these may include bruising easily or having your gums bleed from brushing your teeth. If you find any unusual bleeding, let your clinician know right away. You should try to be careful in your daily activities and avoid injury as much as possible. If by chance you do injure yourself, whether it be from a fall or hard bump to the head, call your clinician right away. You may have a busy life, but that shouldn't stop you from following a regular schedule to take your medication. Even at work, there are ways to remember to take your medicine. You might want to carry a pill container with you and wear a digital watch with an alarm. There are many things you can do to remind yourself to take a pill at the same time each and every day. You can also get family and friends to help remind you until it becomes a habit for you. Either way, it is important to remember to take your medication exactly as your doctor prescribed.

For your own safety, you should also consider wearing a medical alert bracelet or carrying a wallet card as a way to let others know that you are on blood thinner medication in case you can't. It is also important not to make major changes in your diet or start a weight-loss plan without first consulting your clinician. The foods and drinks that you consume can affect how well your blood thinner pills work. For instance, your clinician might want you to be careful about the things you eat or drink that are high in vitamin "K" because it can interfere with the way some blood thinners work. Vitamin "K" is found in many green leafy vegetables, but also in other kinds of foods and in vitamins and herbal nutritional supplements. The most important thing is to remember to keep your diet consistent. Try to eat the same kinds of foods and the same amounts of those foods on a regular basis.

It is important to tell each of your clinicians about the medicines you are taking or want to take. This includes all medicines that other doctors prescribe or ones that you might buy over the counter at your neighborhood drugstore or supermarket. Also, if your medications change, be sure to tell your clinician. Be especially careful about taking aspirin. Talk to your doctor about taking aspirin as it can further reduce your blood's ability to clot and you can bleed too much. For more details about the foods and other substances that you should limit or avoid, or anything else that you should or shouldn't do while taking blood thinners, see or talk with your clinician. It is recommended that you talk to your clinician about your intake of alcoholic beverages, as they may interfere with your medication and its overall effectiveness. Just because you are taking a blood thinner doesn't mean that you have to drastically alter your daily life or stop doing the things that you really enjoy. Just a few changes in your daily schedule and routine are all that's really needed. Again, it's important to communicate with your clinician.

If you have recently been prescribed a blood thinner, there are some main points you should try to take away from watching this video. We will now outline these points. Take a moment, if you'd like, to grab a pen and paper to write them down. There are four main points to remember as you undergo blood thinner drug therapy. These are be careful, eat right, stick to a routine, and test regularly. Be careful in your daily activities. If you are doing something that may put you at risk for having an accident in which you could bleed or get a bruise, take care to try and prevent this from happening. Eat right. And do not eat or drink anything that your clinician has told you not to. You may have to limit certain foods and substances that contain vitamin "K." If your have questions about what foods to eat, ask your clinician. Stick to a routine by taking your medication at the same time every day. Test regularly means to have your INR tested as often as your doctor requires. This way, he or she can adjust your dose of medication as needed.

By following these guidelines, you will be following the BEST strategy for taking a blood thinner safely. So remember, be careful, eat right, stick to a routine, and test regularly, meaning as often as your clinician tells you to. We hope this video helped shed some light on what a blood-thinning drug is, what it does, and how it can help you. We've explained why your doctor may have prescribed it, and we've shared a number of things to keep in mind. Remember that clinicians are there to answer any questions you might have about taking your blood thinner pills. And keep in mind, there are four simple points of being careful, eating right, sticking to a routine, and testing regularly. By doing these things, you are sure to have success in integrating your blood thinner therapy into your daily life. Thanks for watching.

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