St. Mark's Hospital - June 21, 2019

If you have a higher than average risk of heart attack, stroke or blood clots, your doctor may prescribe a blood thinner. The name is a little deceptive since these drugs don’t actually thin the blood, but rather keep blood clots from forming or getting bigger.

Some people are put on blood thinners for a few months, but others take them long-term. Whether you’re new to taking blood thinners or have been using them for awhile, it can be easy to forget the risks. Here’s a refresher on blood thinner safety.

Watch for bleeding. Call your doctor immediately if you cough up blood, see blood after you go to the bathroom, or have bleeding from the nose or gums that won’t stop. Symptoms like severe pain, unusual bruising or dizziness could also be signs of internal bleeding.

Avoid injuries. Be extra careful when using sharp objects like knives, scissors and razors, and avoid activities that could lead to a fall. But don’t stop moving — walking, swimming and riding a stationary bike are safe bets. If you have a major fall or hit your head, seek medical help immediately, even if you don’t see any blood.

Get regular blood tests, if needed. These tests help your doctor know if you’re getting an effective dose without raising risks of uncontrollable bleeding.

Heed food, supplement and drug warnings. Foods high in vitamin K — like leafy greens — can interfere with some blood thinners, so you may need to limit how much you eat. Supplements like garlic and ginkgo biloba, as well as over-the-counter pain relievers like aspirin and ibuprofen, can also increase bleeding risk.