Understanding the role of anticoagulants in preventing blood clots

Anticoagulant drugs, classified under blood thinners, are the mainstay for the acute and long-term prevention and treatment of deep vein thrombosis (blood clots in veins), pulmonary embolism (blood clots in the lungs) and arterial thrombosis (blood clot in the artery).

Anticoagulants Vs Blood thinner

Regarding anticoagulants vs blood thinner, it is important to understand that anticoagulants are blood thinners only. Majorly there are two types of blood thinners, anticoagulants and antiplatelets.  

Heparin or Warfarin are anticoagulants that slow down your body’s process of making clots. Antiplatelets, including aspirin and clopidogrel, prevent platelets from clumping together to form a clot. Antiplatelet agents are prescribed to people with heart attacks or strokes. 

Image depicting the significance of anticoagulants in the prevention of blood clots.

Why would I need to take anticoagulants?

When clots form in your bloodstream, they can be extremely dangerous. If a clot is big, it can get stuck in a smaller blood vessel. If that smaller blood vessel. If that smaller blood vessel is in a critical location, it can restrict blood circulation that one of your body organs requires to survive.  Blockages due to blood clots can lead to the following life-threatening problems:

    1. Pulmonary embolism: A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot stays and blocks an artery in your lungs. If this blockage is severe enough, the condition can be deadly. 
    2. Stroke: Blood clots are particularly deadly if they travel up to your brain, where they can easily get stuck in the smaller blood vessels. 
    3. Myocardial infarction (heart attack): A heart attack occurs when a blockage in the artery supplies blood to your heart. These blockages can also be deadly.       

Anticoagulants, also known as blood thinners, delay blood clotting. Warfarin, apixaban, dabigatran, heparin, and edoxaban are commonly used drugs. These blood thinner medications make it harder for blood clots to form in your heart, arteries, and veins. They also keep existing blood clots from growing larger. Be sure to follow these tips while taking an anticoagulant medication:  

    1. Take blood thinner meds exactly as prescribed by the doctor.
    2. If you take Warfarin, it is important to have regular blood tests so your healthcare specialist can tell you how it works. 
    3. Do not take aspirin with anticoagulant drugs until your doctor advises you.  
    4. Make sure all your doctor know that you are taking anticoagulant medications.
    5. Always speak to your doctor before taking any new medicines or supplements. This includes vitamins, pain medicine, aspirin, cold medicine, sleeping pills, or antibiotics. These can affect the way anticoagulant medicines work by strengthening or weakening them.  
    6. Discuss your diet with your health care specialist. Foods containing vitamin K can reduce the effectiveness of Warfarin. Vitamin K can be found in green leafy vegetables, lentils, soybeans, and vegetable oils.    

How do they work?

Your body is constantly working to balance clotting and anti-clotting processes. An injury can lead to severe blood loss or even death if your blood doesn’t clot enough. Excessive clotting can also cause deadly events. Certain blood components are responsible for an inactive clotting process. That way, your body can activate them rapidly if you get an injury that needs repair. All thanks to this balancing act, clotting is usually a helpful process. It stops bleeding, forms a protective covering to keep the germs out of a wound, and then reforms the skin. Anticoagulants function by interfering with the normal clotting processes. They prevent coagulation, where your blood solidifies to form a clot. 

Oral medications


Being a vitamin K antagonist, Warfarin blocks the use of vitamin K, a crucial ingredient for the clotting process. However, a major disadvantage of this blood clotting medication is that it needs careful dosing and regular testing, as the doctor advises, to prevent complications. Inappropriate dosage may lead to severe bleeding. In some cases, in certain conditions, only Warfarin is prescribed. These include end-stage kidney disease, a mechanical heart valve, and disease affecting your heart’s mitral valve. 

Direct anticoagulants

Another four anticoagulants that got approval from the Food and Drug Administration in recent years: dabigatran, edoxaban, apixaban, and betrixaban. These blood clotting medications can be taken regularly without regular lab testing. These are often prescribed when Warfarin is not an option. When using them, you may not need to get your clotting monitored. These medications immediately inhibit a certain clotting factor. These begin to take effect just after a few hours. There isn’t enough research on the use of anticoagulants in pregnant and breastfeeding women, so those who are pregnant and breastfeeding should not take them.   

Could anticoagulant medicines cause a problem?

You should be aware of blood thinner side effects. If you follow your doctor’s instructions, there will probably be no problems. But you tell them right away if:

    • You think you are pregnant or planning to conceive.
    • Your urine appears pink, red, or brown. This could be a symptom of urinary tract bleeding.
    • Your stools appear red, dark brown, or black. This could be an indication of intestinal bleeding.
    • You have more heavy bleeding than normal when you have a period. 
    • You have gum bleeding.
    • You have a very bad headache or stomach pain that doesn’t resolve.  
    • You often have bruises or blood blisters.
    • You get sick or feel faint, weak, or dizzy.
    • You have an accident, such as a bump on the head or a cut that will not stop bleeding. 


Anticoagulants prevent deadly conditions like pulmonary embolism, stroke, and heart attack. There are also several different ways that these medication function inside the body. This way, people who cannot take one medicine may still be able to take similar medicine. Usually, blood thinner medication interrupts the process involved in forming blood clots. 

Also Read: Know What Triggers Blood Clotting