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Patient Education

Anticoagulant Therapy (Warfarin, Coumadin®)

This treatment involves the use of anticoagulant medications (commonly called blood thinners) to treat various cardiovascular problems. This type of therapy is often prescribed to patients who are at high risk of abnormal blood clots.

Blood Clotting

Blood clots are created when special proteins in the blood are activated. These proteins bind blood cells together, forming clumps that help stop bleeding. Clotting is a natural response to tissue injury, but clots can also form abnormally in people who have an increased tendency for clotting.

Embolism

An abnormal blood clot can be very dangerous. In a common scenario, a blood clot forms in a large blood vessel in the leg. This clot breaks away and travels through the bloodstream, where it lodges in a smaller blood vessel and disrupts blood flow to a vital organ. This type of disruptive clot is called an embolus. A clot that travels to a coronary artery can cause a heart attack. A clot that blocks blood flow to the brain can cause a stroke. A clot that travels to the lungs can cause a pulmonary embolism. This can be fatal.

How Warfarin Works

Anticoagulants prevent clots by disrupting the action of the clotting proteins. But preventing clots can also be dangerous, because it can lead to uncontrollable bleeding if the person is injured. This is called a hemorrhage. A person who is taking anticoagulant medication must not engage in activities that can result in traumatic injury. The person must also be aware of signs of chronic internal bleeding.

Using Warfarin

A physician will carefully tailor the dosage of this medication to meet the specific needs of each patient. The dose will be monitored with periodic blood sample checks. The physician will also provide information about side effects and interactions with other drugs. Some patients will only need this medication for a period of time. In other cases it may be used for the patient’s lifetime.