Guest blog: Blood Thinners and Stroke Prevention for Seniors

Image provided by Drugwatch.com via ShutterStock

Today’s blog comes from Drugwatch.com, a group dedicated to informing seniors and other age groups about dangerous prescription drugs and medical devices. 

Seniors make up a large portion of the more than 2 million Americans who take blood thinners as a defense against strokes. Around 800,000 strokes occur every year, with the potential of causing brain damage and debilitating side effects.  Blood thinners reduce the risk of stroke by preventing clots from forming in the veins or arteries. While taking blood thinners, it is important to follow medical guidelines and know possible complications.

Guidelines for Taking Blood Thinners

To prevent health complications, follow these safety tips when taking blood thinners:

  • Keep an updated list of medications, including the name of the blood thinner your doctor prescribes.
  • Make sure doctors other than your primary care physician are aware of your blood thinner prescription to avoid bleeding situations that may occur from dental work or surgeries.
  • Many doctors recommend limiting alcohol consumption while taking blood thinners.
  • Get blood tests, as directed.
  • Take extra care not to cut or injure yourself from scissor accidents or falls, as blood thinners cause increased bleeding.

Bleeding Risks

Because these medications prevent the body from its natural ability to heal from cuts by clotting, injuries that cause bleeding are especially dangerous and may require the assistance of medical professionals. Some blood thinners, unfortunately, do not yet have antidotes to treat bleeding accidents.

The effects of warfarin (Coumadin), a blood thinner that has been popular for many years, can be reversed by treatment with vitamin K. Because of warfarin’s unique chemical makeup, users of the medication must also monitor their diet to manage foods that have vitamin K and may inhibit the medication from working initially.

Pradaxa (dabigitran) was approved in 2010, but at this point no antidote exists. Since Pradaxa’s release, there have been records of more than 500 disabling or deadly bleeding incidents that occurred while people were using the drug. These events combined with other adverse events from the drug led to 542 deaths in 2011, according to QuarterWatch, a nonprofit group focused on medical safety.

Pradaxa Bleeding and Heart Attacks

QuarterWatch gathered information from physicians, the FDA’s adverse event reporting database, manufacturers and other sources, finding documentation of 3,791 serious adverse events from Pradaxa in 2011. In addition to uncontrollable bleeding cases, other risks from Pradaxa include heart problems.

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology published a study in March 2012 that found that patients taking Pradaxa were five times more like to have heart attacks that those taking warfarin. A study done by the Cleveland Clinic also found a link between Pradaxa and heart problems. According to this study, published in the Archives of National Medicine, in comparison to Warfarin, Pradaxa caused a 33 percent increased risk of heart attack or severe symptoms of heart disease.

A new blood thinner called Eliquis (apixaban) was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in December 2012. There are plans to complete trials on a drug that may work as a bleeding antidote for Eliquis.

Knowledge of the risk involved with certain blood thinner medications may help you to properly manage your health and prevent both strokes and bleeding accidents.

Alanna Ritchie writes about dangerous prescription drugs and medical devices for Drugwatch.com.

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