How are anticoagulants used?

Anticoagulants are medications that inhibit blood clotting. While they cannot dissolve an existing clot, they help prevent the formation of new clots and can keep existing clots from getting larger while the body dissolves the blood clot. Heparin is a fast-acting anticoagulant given either intravenously (IV) or via injection. Warfarin (coumadin) is a slow-acting anticoagulant taken by mouth.

If your doctor prescribes anticoagulant therapy to treat or prevent blood clots, you'll receive heparin (fast-acting) and warfarin (slow-acting) simultaneously. Once warfarin levels build up sufficiently in the blood, heparin can be stopped while warfarin treatment continues for the remainder of the anticoagulant therapy. Newer agents like enoxaprin are also now being used. Others include rivaroxaban, fondaparinux and apixaban. Consult your doctor to see which medication may be best suited for you.

The length of anticoagulant therapy depends on a person's risk factors and whether they are temporary. Some people receive anticoagulant therapy for a few months while others require life-long anticoagulant therapy.

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