Anticoagulants are drugs which inhibit COAGULATION of the blood. They are used to prevent and treat abnormal clotting of the blood, to treat THROMBOSIS, and sometimes to prevent or treat STROKE or TRANSIENT ISCHAEMIC ATTACKS OR EPISODES (TIA, TIE). Anticoagulant drugs are also prescribed preventively in major surgery to stop abnormal clotting from occurring; HAEMODIALYSIS is another procedure during which these drugs are used. Anticoagulants are also prescribed to prevent thrombi (clots) forming on prosthetic heart valves after heart surgery.
The drugs are much more eﬀective in the treatment and prevention of venous clotting – for example, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), see under VEINS, DISEASES OF – than in preventing thrombosis formation in arteries with their fast-ﬂowing blood in which thrombi contain little ﬁbrin (against which the anticoagulants work) and many PLATELETS.
The main anticoagulants now in use are the natural agent HEPARIN (a quick-acting variety and a low-molecular-weight long-acting type); synthetic oral anticoagulants such as WARFARIN and the less-often-used acenocoumarol and PHENINDIONE; and antiplatelet compounds such as ASPIRIN, clopidogrel dipyridamole and ticlopidines. Fondaparinux is an extract of heparin which can be given once daily by injection; ximelagatran, an inhibitor of thrombin, is being trialled as the ﬁrst new oral anticoagulant since heparin.
Patients taking anticoagulants need careful medical monitoring and they should carry an Anticoagulant Card with instructions about the use of whatever drug they may be receiving – essential information should the individual require treatment for other medical conditions as well as for thrombosis.