There are a number of cardiovascular disorders that are associated with abnormal blood clotting. A blood clot, or thrombus, can form in the heart chambers, on mechanical artificial heart valves, or in the arteries and veins. A fragment of a blood clot that breaks off and travels throughout the circulation is called an embolus and can result in serious injury, often a stroke. Some patients may never have had a clot form yet have a condition that is associated with serious risks of clot development if untreated. There are various anticoagulants (“blood thinners”) that can be used to treat or prevent such devastating conditions.
Warfarin (Coumadin®) is an oral blood thinner that works very differently than aspirin and related medications. Warfarin is used to treat or prevent blood clot formation in patients with specific medical conditions. The amount of warfarin required to thin the blood varies widely among patients. Many medications and certain foods can affect the action of warfarin.
The success of treatment depends upon careful monitoring and adjustment of the warfarin dose throughout the course of treatment that, for some patients, may be lifelong. A simple blood test commonly called the “protime” (also referred to as the “prothrombin time” or “INR”) is used to monitor warfarin activity. A drop of blood is obtained by finger stick in the office, and the degree of anticoagulation is immediately determined.
Numerous studies have shown that close attention to the degree of anticoagulation by knowledgeable personnel increases the success of treatment and reduces the risks of bleeding. Our cardiologists and staff members have extensive experience with anticoagulation practices and will help you become familiar with these important principles.
Newer anticoagulants exist that may be used instead of warfarin. Compared to warfarin, there may be various advantages, limitations, and drawbacks. Your cardiologist will discuss these issues with you in detail and lead you towards the best selection.