Taking heparin and warfarin for deep vein thrombosis (DVT)
A blood clot caused by deep vein thrombosis (DVT) can be life threatening and is often treated using blood thinning medication.
Blood thinners, or anticoagulants, can help stop clots forming or getting bigger, or help stop parts of a clot causing damage around the body.
The 2 types of anticoagulant used to treat DVT are heparin and warfarin. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) also now recommends two newer anticoagulants called rivaroxaban and apixaban as possible treatments for DVT.
Heparin and warfarin: The basics
If you're taking heparin and warfarin for DVT, make sure you:
- Tell your GP or specialist about all other medications you take, including over-the-counter drugs, herbal remedies, and vitamins or other supplements. Some medications can increase or decrease the effects of heparin and warfarin, which can be extremely dangerous.
- Do not take aspirin with anticoagulants unless your doctor says it's OK.
- Tell all your doctors and dentists that you're taking heparin or warfarin.
- Tell your doctor if you're trying to become pregnant or have become pregnant as warfarin can cause birth defects.
- Tell your doctor if you have an accident of any kind. Anticoagulants increase your risk of bleeding.
- Let your close family members know how you take your anticoagulants.
- Carry an emergency medical ID card that contains the name of the medication you're taking, your name, phone number and address, and the name, phone number and address of your doctor.
Tips for taking heparin and warfarin for DVT
If you're taking heparin or warfarin for DVT, you should know the following:
Heparin: Traditionally, people have received heparin intravenously (by IV into a vein) in the hospital for about five to seven days. However, low-molecular-weight heparin is effective within hours, reducing complications and hospitalisations, allowing, in a number of cases, for injections under the skin to be performed in the community. Because low-molecular-weight heparin is more consistent and predictable, it doesn't require regular blood tests.
Warfarin: You take warfarin in tablet form once a day, beginning while you're still on heparin. Treatment may continue for about three to six months. While on warfarin, you need regular blood tests to ensure you have the correct dosage.
Ask your specialist how long you will need to take heparin and warfarin.
And follow these 6 tips for taking these anticoagulants:
- Take heparin and warfarin exactly as you are advised to.
- Take your medication at the same time each day. Your GP or specialist may recommend taking it in the evening so it's easier to make any adjustments in your dosage.
- Always double-check your tablets when you get a new prescription. Tablets are colour-coded. They also have the milligram strength printed on them. If the dose differs from your last one, check with your GP or pharmacist to make sure it is correct.
- Collect repeat heparin or warfarin prescriptions before you run out. It is risky to go even one day without your medication.
- If you do miss a dose, call your GP for instructions. Don't try to make up for missed doses or change your dose on your own for any reason.