Anticoagulants Drugs – Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Interaction

Anticoagulants Drugs – Uses, Dosage, Side Effects, Interaction

Anticoagulants Drugs/Anticoagulants are medicines that help prevent blood clots. They’re given to people at a high risk of getting clots, to reduce their chances of developing serious conditions such as strokes and heart attacks. A blood clot is a seal created by the blood to stop bleeding from wounds.

Anticoagulants, commonly known as blood thinners, are chemical substances that prevent or reduce coagulation of blood, prolonging the clotting time. Some of them occur naturally in blood-eating animals such as leeches and mosquitoes, where they help keep the bite area unclotted long enough for the animal to obtain some blood.[rx][rx] As a class of medications, anticoagulants are used in therapy for thrombotic disorders.[rx] Oral anticoagulants (OACs) are taken by many people in pill or tablet form, and various intravenous anticoagulant dosage forms are used in hospitals.[rx][rx] Some anticoagulants are used in medical equipment, such as sample tubes, blood transfusion bags, heart-lung machines, and dialysis equipment.[rx][rx] One of the first anticoagulants, warfarin, was initially approved as a rodenticide.[rx]


  • The first stage – involves the creation of a platelet plug consequent from disruption of the vascular endothelium from injuries due to diabetes, hypertension, smoking as well as vascular wall tear. Following damage to the vascular wall, the Von Willibrand factor (VWF) is released by the endothelial cells and megakaryocytes, which mediates platelet adhesion to the damaged vascular surface, and aggregation of platelets.
  • The second stage – involves the propagation of clots by activation of various proenzymes to their active form. This clotting cascade is a regulatory process of the clotting system initiated by the extrinsic pathway and propagated via the intrinsic pathway. The extrinsic pathway is initiated by factor III (tissue factor), a membrane-bound glycoprotein that is present in the subendothelial tissues and fibroblast. Tissue factor is activated by exposure from vascular disruption or damage. Exposed tissue factor binds to factor VII and calcium, which then converts factor X to activated factor X.The intrinsic pathway results from activation of factor XI by factor XII, HMW Kininogen, and prekallikrein. Activated XI then activates factor IX. Activated factor IX in conjunction with its cofactor (factor VIII), leads to the activation of factor X.The coagulation cascade has a common pathway that bridges the intrinsic and extrinsic pathways. Activated factor X with its cofactor (factor V) in conjunction with calcium, tissue, and platelet phospholipids, converts prothrombin to thrombin. Thrombin breaks circulating fibrinogen to fibrin and activates factor XIII, which crosslinks fibrin leading to a stable clot.
  • The third stage – in the clotting process is the termination of clot formation and the antithrombin control mechanism which are designed to prevent and mediate the extent of clot formation, thereby preventing processes that can lead to thrombosis, vascular inflammation, and tissue damage. This phase in the clotting pathway ensures the fluidity of blood.Removal of the clot by fibrinolysis is the last stage in clot formation. This stage ensures the removal of organized clots by plasmin as well as wound healing and tissue remodeling. Anticoagulation or clot prevention can be directed at different sites of the coagulation pathway, with overlaps at multiple points. Direct thrombin inhibitors and direct factor Xa inhibitors can inhibit the formation of a fibrin clot. Other mechanisms through which anticoagulation can be achieved include inhibition of vitamin K-dependent factors by preventing their synthesis in the liver or modification of their calcium-binding properties. The use of anticoagulation in pregnancy is an important consideration; pregnancy is associated with a five-fold increase in the risk of venous thromboembolism, with the risk rising to twenty-fold or more during puerperium. The risk further increases if underlying thrombophilia is present. The risk of venous thromboembolism persists until nearly 12 weeks postpartum.

Anatomy and Physiology

Anticoagulants derive their effect by acting at different sites of the coagulation cascade. Some act directly by enzyme inhibition, while others indirectly, by binding to antithrombin or by preventing their synthesis from the liver (vitamin K dependent factors).

Available Anticoagulants

  • Unfractionated Heparin (UFH): These include heparin, make complexes with antithrombin III, and inactivates various clotting factors. Its onset of action is rapid, a short half-life and can be monitored using activated partial thromboplastin (aPTT), activated clotting time, and anti-factor Xa activity. The recommended target ratio of aPTT is 1.5 to 2.2 times the patients’ aPTT.
  • Low Molecular Weight Heparin (LMWH): These are enoxaparin, dalteparin, tinzaparin, nadroparin, have a longer length of action, long half-life, and can be monitored using anti-factor Xa activity. However, monitoring is not indicated except in certain conditions like pregnancy and renal failure.
  • Vitamin K Dependent Antagonists (VKA): Warfarin, one of the most common anticoagulants available. It acts by inhibiting vitamin K epoxide reductase (VKOR), which is needed for the gamma-carboxylation of vitamin K-dependent factors (factors II, VII, IX, X, protein C and S). It has a narrow therapeutic window of dosing, and its effect is profoundly altered by certain factors including diet (leafy green vegetables, fruits like avocado, kiwi), medications, and genetic mutations in the VKOR complex which leads to resistance. It requires frequent monitoring with an international normalized ratio (INR).
  • Direct Thrombin Inhibitors: Bivalirudin, argatroban, and dabigatran are direct thrombin inhibitors; these inhibit the cleavage of fibrinogen to fibrin by thrombin. All products are really metabolized.
  • Direct Factor Xa Inhibitors: These include rivaroxaban, apixaban, edoxaban, and betrixaban. Mechanism of action involves inhibition of the cleavage of prothrombin to thrombin by binding directly to factor Xa. These products are only orally administered.

The terms direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs), new oral anticoagulants (NOACs), or target-specific oral anticoagulants (TSOACs) refer to those oral anticoagulants which specifically inhibit factors IIa (thrombin) or Xa. According to the International Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis, DOACs is the preferred term. DOACs have been found to have similar effects when compared to other anticoagulants. Some studies have also shown possible decreased bleeding incidence with DOACs. DOACs have increased ease of dosing with less susceptibility to dietary and drug interaction.

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Indications for Anticoagulation

The choice of anticoagulation should be a shared decision and tailored to the patient’s preference, risk stratification, and medical condition. Anticoagulants are indicated in several conditions listed below. The main indications for anticoagulation include atrial fibrillation, venous thromboembolism, and post-heart valve replacement. Venous thromboembolism is important because they sometimes are the first sign in multiple medical conditions.

  • Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI) – Early anticoagulation (AC) with heparin is indicated for all patients with a documented diagnosis of acute myocardial infarction or acute coronary syndrome. The choice of AC (heparin, unfractionated heparin (UFH), low-molecular-weight heparin, fondaparinux, or bivalirudin) depends on the therapy instituted. AC has been found to lower the risk of thrombus formation when it started early and continued for more than 48 hours. Heparin (UFH) is indicated for patients undergoing percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). For those patients receiving fibrinolytic therapy, heparin is also indicated and continued for at least two days. Patients not undergoing PCI should be treated with low molecular weight heparin such as enoxaparin or parenteral heparin (UFH).
  • Left Ventricular (LV) Thrombus – Studies have suggested the benefits of early initiation of anticoagulation in patients with documented LV thrombus to prevent embolization of thrombus. Anticoagulation therapy should be continued for three to four months as the risk of embolization was found to be highest within the first 3-4 months. Although no extensive randomized studies have been conducted with the NOACs in this disease state, as compared to warfarin, it is recommended that NOACs be used due to the convenience of dosing. Vitamin K-dependent anticoagulants like warfarin with a therapeutic target INR of 2-3, continue to be used most commonly.
  • Atrial Fibrillation – Anticoagulation reduces the embolic risk in patients with atrial fibrillation. The risk for embolization is the same for patients with paroxysmal, persistent, or chronic atrial fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation is an independent risk factor for stroke. It is present in approximately 20% of patients with a first-time stroke and contributes to increased mortality and disability. The embolic risk for patients with atrial fibrillation can be assessed using scoring systems like the CHA2DS2-Vasc score.
  • Left Ventricular Aneurysm – A left ventricular aneurysm can be a complication of acute myocardial infarction. Patients with a left ventricular aneurysm are at high risk for a thromboembolic event. Among other medical therapies, anticoagulation reduces thromboembolic events, especially in those with arrhythmia.
  • Prosthetic Heart Valve – Anticoagulation therapy is indicated in patients with a prosthetic heart valve. Vitamin K-dependent anticoagulants are recommended for patients with prosthetic heart valves in addition to the use of unfractionated heparin or low-molecular-weight heparin at any point when vitamin K antagonist therapy is interrupted. Direct oral anticoagulants are not indicated in patients with a prosthetic heart valve. The ideal level of vitamin K-dependent anticoagulants varies depending on the diseased valve and the presence of additional thromboembolic risk factors.
  • Venous Thromboembolism Treatment – Anticoagulation is used in the treatment of venous thromboembolism (deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary emboli). The duration for anticoagulation in these clinical states depends on the precipitating circumstances, and additional thromboembolic risk and comorbidities.
  • Venous Thromboembolism Prophylaxis – Anticoagulants are indicated for the prevention of venous thromboembolism in selected patient populations (hospitalized patients, post-operative state, cancer patients). Adverse events like thromboembolism are reduced in patients receiving prophylactic anticoagulation.
  • Treatment of Venous Thromboembolism in Patients with Cancer – Thromboembolism is a frequent complication in cancer patients due to the release of procoagulants from neoplastic cells. Several studies have demonstrated that LMWH is superior to VKAs in the treatment of VTE in cancer patients.
  • Heparin-Induced Thrombocytopenia – Although thrombocytopenia increases bleeding risk, it has been shown to predispose patients to venous thromboembolism. Heparin-induced thrombocytopenia is antibody-mediated with complications that include pulmonary embolism, acute myocardial infarction, and ischemic limb necrosis. Therefore, estimation of the bleeding risk before initiation of anticoagulation is essential. The use of argatroban, lepirudin, or danaparoid is recommended over other non-heparin anticoagulants.
  • Pregnancy – Anticoagulants are indicated in pregnancy for the treatment of acute venous thromboembolism, valvular heart disease, and pregnancy-related complications in women with antiphospholipid antibody syndrome, antithrombin deficiency, or other thrombophilias who had a prior VTE. Warfarin is more efficacious than unfractionated heparin for the prevention of thromboembolism in pregnant ladies with mechanical valves. But, warfarin therapy in the first trimester of pregnancy is associated with a significant increase in fetal anomalies.


Anticoagulation should be avoided in patients with absolute contraindications, such as in the following conditions:

  • Active bleeding
  • Coagulopathy
  • Recent major surgeries
  • Acute intracranial hemorrhage
  • Major trauma

Anticoagulation may be considered in those with relative contraindications such as the following conditions:

  • Gastrointestinal bleed
  • Low-risk surgeries
  • Aortic dissection or aneurysm

Anticoagulation should be used cautiously in these patients:

  • Geriatrics
  • Pregnant patients


Laboratory Monitoring and Testing for Anticoagulation

Measurement and monitoring of anticoagulation levels and concentrations may be indicated in certain situations like:

  • Bleeding
  • Thrombosis
  • Urgent or elective invasive procedures
  • Thrombolysis
  • Overdose
  • Therapeutic levels for multiple conditions
  • Preoperative testing
  • Liver disease

Routine monitoring of direct oral anticoagulants (DOAC) levels is not generally indicated unless in certain conditions with high bleeding risk, such as neural procedures that require no anticoagulant effect. Assays for anti-Xa or anti-IIa activity are recommended methods in these conditions for quantitative information.

The initial testing in any individual with suspected bleeding history is listed below. Several point-of-care tests (POCT) for anticoagulation are used in operating rooms. POCT can measure bleedings assays like prothrombin time (PT) and activated partial thromboplastin time (aPTT), fibrinogen assay, and whole blood platelet function test.

  • CBC – with platelet count and morphology
  • Bleeding Time: An insensitive test that is not commonly in use. This test shows how quickly bleeding can stop. The test provides information on platelet disorder, vascular contractility, Von Willibrand disorder (VWD), and thrombocytopenia.
  • Clotting Time: This is the time it takes for plasma to clot after the addition of different substrates in vitro under standard conditions using the capillary method. The average clotting time is between 8 to 15 minutes. Some studies have disputed the use of clotting time as a screening test.
  • Prothrombin Time (PT)/INR: This is the initial test used to identify defects in secondary hemostasis. It is the time taken for blood to clot and generates thrombin. A delay in the PT or aPTT indicates the presence of either a deficiency or inhibitor of the clotting factor, except for the antiphospholipid antibody, which can result in delayed aPTT. The normal range for PT levels is approximately 11 to 13 seconds, although levels may vary depending on the laboratory.
  • Activated Partial Thromboplastin Time (aPTT): Used to assess the intrinsic and common pathways of coagulation. The typical values range from 25 to 35 seconds, though this may vary between laboratories.
  • Thrombin Time: This measures the final step in the clotting cascade. Abnormal thrombin time can be caused by thrombin inhibitor anticoagulants like heparin, dabigatran, argatroban, and any abnormalities in fibrinogen.
  • Specific Clotting Factor Assays: This test is specific for individual factor deficiencies. It is done with the mixing study.
  • Clot Solubility: This test is used to assess for deficiency of factor XIII. Factor XIII crosslinks the fibrin clot after its formation.
  • Fibrin D-dimer: Released from the cleavage of fibrin cross-linked by plasmin.


Foods and food supplements with blood-thinning effects include nattokinase, lumbrokinase, beer, bilberry, celery, cranberries, fish oil, garlic, ginger, ginkgo, ginseng, green tea, horse chestnut, licorice, niacin, onion, papaya, pomegranate, red clover, soybean, St. John’s wort, turmeric, wheatgrass, and willow bark. Many herbal supplements have blood-thinning properties, such as danshen and feverfew.[rx] Multivitamins that do not interact with clotting are available for patients on anticoagulants.[rx]

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However, some foods and supplements encourage clotting.[rx] These include alfalfa, avocado, cat’s claw, coenzyme Q10, and dark leafy greens such as spinach.[rx][rx] Excessive intake of aforementioned food should be avoided whilst taking anticoagulants or, if coagulability is being monitored, their intake should be kept approximately constant so that anticoagulant dosage can be maintained at a level high enough to counteract this effect without fluctuations in coagulability.[rx][rx]

Grapefruit interferes with some anticoagulant drugs, increasing the amount of time it takes for them to be metabolized out of the body, and so should be eaten with caution when on anticoagulant drugs.[rx]

Anticoagulants are often used to treat acute deep vein thrombosis.[rx][rx] People using anticoagulants to treat this condition should avoid using bed rest as a complementary treatment because there are clinical benefits to continuing to walk and remaining mobile while using anticoagulants in this way.[rx] Bed rest while using anticoagulants can harm patients in circumstances in which it is not medically necessary.[rx]

When anticoagulants are used

If a blood clot blocks the flow of blood through a blood vessel, the affected part of the body will become starved of oxygen and will stop working properly.

Depending on where the clot forms, this can lead to serious problems such as:

  • strokes or transient ischaemic attacks (“mini-strokes”)
  • heart attacks
  • deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
  • pulmonary embolism

Treatment with anticoagulants may be recommended if your doctor feels you’re at an increased risk of developing one of these problems. This may be because you’ve had blood clots in the past or you’ve been diagnosed with a condition such as atrial fibrillation that can cause blood clots to form.

You may also be prescribed an anticoagulant if you’ve recently had surgery, as the period of rest and inactivity you need during your recovery can increase your risk of developing a blood clot.

How to take anticoagulants

Your doctor or nurse should tell you how much of your anticoagulant medicine to take and when to take it.

Most people need to take their tablets or capsules once or twice a day with water or food.

The length of time you need to keep taking your medicine for depends on why it’s been prescribed. In many cases, treatment will be lifelong.

If you’re unsure how to take your medicine or are worried that you missed a dose or have taken too much, check the patient information leaflet that comes with it or ask your GP, anticoagulant clinic or pharmacist what to do. You can also call NHS 111 for advice.

Things to consider when taking anticoagulants

There are several things you need to be aware of when taking anticoagulant medicines.

If you’re going to have surgery or a test such as an endoscopy, make sure your doctor or surgeon is aware that you’re taking anticoagulants, as you may have to stop taking them for a short time.

Speak to your GP, anticoagulant clinic or pharmacist before taking any other medications, including prescription and over-the-counter medicines, as some medications can affect how your anticoagulant works.

If you’re taking warfarin, you’ll also need to avoid making significant changes to what you normally eat and drink, as this can affect your medication.

Most anticoagulant medicines aren’t suitable for pregnant women. Speak to your GP or anticoagulant clinic if you become pregnant or are planning to try for a baby while taking anticoagulants.

About your anticoagulant dose

For most people, anticoagulant tablets or capsules should be taken at the same time once or twice a day. It’s important to take your medicine as scheduled because the effect of some anticoagulants can start to wear off within a day.

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Warfarin, apixaban (Eliquis), and dabigatran (Pradaxa) should be taken with water. Rivaroxaban (Xarelto) is normally taken with food.

Depending on your dose, you may need to take more than one tablet or capsule at a time.

Warfarin tablets come in different colors (white, brown, blue and pink) to indicate their strength. You may need to take a combination of different colored tablets to reach your total dose. Other anticoagulants come in different strengths and colors.

Your doctor or nurse will explain how many tablets you need to take when to take them, and what the different colors mean.

Missed or extra doses


If you’re taking warfarin and you miss one of your doses, you should skip the dose you missed and wait to take your next scheduled dose as normal. Don’t take a double dose to make up for the one you missed.

If you accidentally take a dose that was much higher than recommended, contact your anticoagulant clinic or GP for advice.

Newer anticoagulants

If you’re taking apixaban or dabigatran twice a day and you miss one of your doses, you should take it as soon as you remember if it’s still more than 6 hours until your next scheduled dose. If it’s less than 6 hours until your next dose, skip the dose you missed and take the next scheduled dose as normal.

If you accidentally take a double dose, skip your next scheduled dose and take the following dose the next day as scheduled.

If you’re taking rivaroxaban once a day and you miss one of your doses, you should take it as soon as you remember if it’s still more than 12 hours until your next scheduled dose. If it’s less than 12 hours until your next dose, skip the dose you missed and take the next scheduled dose as normal.

If you accidentally take a double dose, take your next dose the next day as scheduled.

Side effects of Anticoagulants Drugs

Like all medicines, there’s a risk of experiencing side effects while taking anticoagulants.

The main side effect is that you can bleed too easily, which can cause problems such as:

  • passing blood in your urine
  • passing blood when you poo or having black poo
  • severe bruising
  • prolonged nosebleeds
  • bleeding gums
  • vomiting blood or coughing up blood
  • heavy periods in women

For most people, the benefits of taking anticoagulants will outweigh the risk of excessive bleeding.

Complications of Anticoagulants Drugs

Bleeding Risk on Anticoagulation

Several factors can increase the risk of bleeding in patients receiving anticoagulation therapy. The risks can be anticoagulant-related or patient-related. Providers need to consider other factors or errors that can increase the risk of bleeding in patients.

Anticoagulant-Related Risks
  • Studies have shown that the risk of significant bleed is higher with warfarin than with direct oral anticoagulants.
  • Dose of anticoagulant
  • Concomitant use of other medications (e.g., antiplatelet agents) that independently increase the risk of bleeding
Patient-Related Risks
  • Age
  • Race (risk increased in Black/Brown population)
  • Underlying medical conditions
  • Recent surgery
  • Coagulopathy

Anticoagulation Reversal

The initial step for any condition requiring urgent reversal of anticoagulation is always to discontinue the anticoagulant. Other standard measures that can be applied to most anticoagulants in certain significant and life-threatening bleeding situations include:

  • Use of activated charcoal with 2 hours of the last dose of anticoagulant
  • Hemodialysis
  • Red blood cell transfusion for anemia
  • Platelet transfusion if thrombocytopenic
  • Some cases may warrant surgical or endoscopic intervention

Different anticoagulants have specific reversal agents that act to counteract their effects.

  • Unfractionated Heparin – Protamine sulfate counteracts the anti-Xa activity of unfractionated heparin. Protamine sulfate has a short half-life and is usually administered intravenously. The ideal dose to achieve full resolution of anti-Xa action can be calculated by 1mg /100units of heparin remaining in the blood. The amount of heparin remaining in the blood can be estimated based on the previous dose of heparin, the interval since the last treatment, considering its half-life of one to two hours (doses of 50mg or 25mg via slow intravenous infusion).
  • Low Molecular Weight (LMW) Heparin – Protamine sulfate is indicated for bleeding in patients on LMW heparin, although not as effective as with bleeding associated with unfractionated heparin. It is known to neutralize the larger molecules of the LMW heparin, which are the culprits in bleeding.
  • Direct Oral Anticoagulants (Dabigatran) – Idarucizumab is an anti-dabigatran monoclonal antibody fragment used in patients treated with dabigatran presenting with life-threatening bleeding. Its dose is 5 grams intravenously.
  • Direct Oral Anticoagulants (Apixaban, Betrixaban, Edoxaban, Rivaroxaban) – Andexanet alfa can be given as 800 mg bolus at 30 mg/minute followed by 960 mg infusion at 8 mg/minute or half of this dose depending on the dose of anticoagulation and last dose of direct oral anticoagulant received above 8 hours.
  • Other Agents – Other nonspecific reversal agents that can be used if andexanet is not available are; 4-factor activated prothrombin complex concentrate (4-factor PCC), factor eight inhibitor bypassing activity (FEIBA), antifibrinolytic agents (tranexamic acid, epsilon-aminocaproic acid), or desmopressin (DDAVP).


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