Every day, thousands of patients are prescribed anticoagulants that work to prevent blood clots. Blood clots are a serious health threat that can increase your risk of a heart attack. Unfortunately, these same drugs that aim to help you may actually be putting you at a higher risk.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham uncovered that these drugs are being prescribed even against safety warnings. Anticoagulants have been linked to bleeding complications among some patients. The researchers found that patients who have irregular heart rhythms who are prescribed anticoagulants are at highest risk for this complication.
First author Dr. Nicola Adderley explained, “These patients are at high risk of stroke and anticoagulant drugs greatly reduce the stroke risk as they make blood less likely to clot. However, because they reduce blood clotting, patients taking anticoagulant drugs are at risk of bleeding complications. Therefore, safety advice is to avoid anticoagulants in patients who have certain conditions such as a bleeding peptic ulcer, diabetic eye disease or a previous stroke caused by a bleed.”
The researchers reviewed patient data from 645 general practices over the course of 12 years.
They found that patients with irregular heartbeats (atrial fibrillation) that had safety concerns were being prescribed anticoagulants at the same rate as atrial fibrillation patients who were not at risk.
Corresponding author Professor Tom Marshall added, “Our study shows that safety advice seems not to influence the prescribing of anticoagulants. We found that patients considered a safety risk were just as likely to be prescribed the drugs as those without safety risks, and this occurred in every year between 2004 and 2015. Because anticoagulants prevent strokes in people with this type of irregular pulse, GPs are encouraged to prescribe more anticoagulants to those who need them. This has been happening and it is good news.”
“But the sting in the tail is that more people who perhaps shouldn’t be on anticoagulants are also taking them: about 38,000 nationally. We need to understand the reasons for this and whether patients might come to any harm,” Professor Marshall continued.
Facts about blood clots
Although anticoagulants are often referred to as blood thinners, they don’t actually thin the blood. This type of medication works by interrupting the process that is involved in blood clot creation.
A blood clot can occur anywhere in the body, and if it dislodges, it can move to the lungs, heart, brain, or other areas of the body and cause deadly outcomes.
The location of the blood clot will determine the symptoms a person experiences. Here is the list of symptoms that a blood clot can cause based on where it is in the body.
|Arm or leg||Brain||Heart||Abdomen||Lung|
• sudden pains
• warmth in one spot
|• changes in vision
• speech impairment
• changes in sensation in the face, one arm or leg, or one side of your body
|• shortness of breath
• excessive sweating
• chest pains that may extend down the left arm
• passing out
|• serious abdominal pain
• blood in the vomitus or stool
|• sharp chest pains
• a cough with blood
• difficulty breathing
• a rapid pulse
• passing out
*Symptoms chart provided by Healthline
Those at greatest risk of a blood clot include people who are obese, smokers, and those over the age of 60.
If you’re concerned about your risk of blood clots or about the medications you are on, speak to your doctor. You should never stop a medication without letting your physician know.