Taking a potent blood thinner has never been as simple as washing down a pill with your breakfast juice. Frequent blood tests and dietary restrictions were the routine for most people taking these medications in the past.

“The new anticoagulants are making life easier for some people,” said James G. Dwyer, MD, FACC, FSCAI, Cardiologist, YRMC PhysicianCare Cardiology. “The downside is these medications are more expensive, especially if people have to pay for them out of pocket.”

Anticoagulants, or blood thinners, are life-saving medications that help prevent dangerous blood clots in people at risk for stroke or heart and vascular problems. If you or a family member has been prescribed an older blood thinner (Warfarin or Coumadin), you’re probably familiar with the delicate balancing act required to ensure they’re working effectively. In addition to regular blood tests, people prescribed this traditional blood thinner must monitor their consumption of green, leafy vegetables. Brussels sprout, broccoli, collard greens, kale, spinach and others contain Vitamin K, which interferes with how a traditional blood thinner works.

“If you eat a certain amount of spinach one week, for example,” Dr. Dwyer said, “then you need to consume the same amount the next week.”

In recent years, however, new types of blood thinners have eliminated the need for these diet restrictions as well as weekly or monthly blood tests.

Which one is best for you?

While studies show the new blood thinners are as effective as the traditional anticoagulants, the type your physician prescribes will depend on your health and lifestyle. Dr. Dwyer noted that unlike traditional blood thinners, most of the new medications do not yet have a “reversal agent.” This is an antidote doctors can administer if the patient develops a bleeding problem. Additionally, blood thinners may not be appropriate for people with medical conditions like kidney failure or if they’ve had a mechanical heart valve implanted.

Only you and your doctor can decide which blood thinning medication is right for you. Regardless of which option you choose, there are some important precautions you should take to help prevent bleeding problems:

  • Take Time to Tell All. Make sure your doctor knows all other prescriptions and over-the-counter products you’re taking, including vitamins and herbal supplements. These medications may interact with your blood thinner. Even something as simple as cold medicine containing aspirin has the potential to create a problem.
  • Reduce Your Risk for Cuts. Switch to an electric razor and wear gloves when using knives, gardening shears or other sharp tools. Protect your feet by wearing shoes as much as possible.
  • Go Gentle on Your Gums. Use a soft-bristled toothbrush and floss that has a waxed finish. And, tell your dentist that you’re taking a blood thinner.
  • Get in the (Right) Game. It’s important to exercise for overall health, but people on blood thinners must avoid contact sports. Choose activities that are gentler on your body – like swimming – and don’t create bruising. Also, make an effort to stay hydrated and stretch during any exercise session.

Dr. Dwyer encourages people taking blood thinners to ask their provider about other potential lifestyle changes. He also recommends keeping in regular contact with your physician to keep track of your ongoing medical condition.

Don’t have a physician? Contact YRMC Physician Referral Service at (928) 771-5106 or contact the outstanding cardiologists at YRMC PhysicianCare Cardiology in one of our two Prescott locations – (928) 445-6025 or (928) 778-0309 – or our Prescott Valley location at (928) 442-8117.

Related: Patient Blood Management: Preserving A Precious Resource