Blood thinners help you avoid the biggest risks of atrial fibrillation – blood clots and strokes. Many afib patients will go on a blood thinner at some point during their treatment plan. It’s important to note, however, that blood thinners don’t completely eliminate these risks.
The most widely prescribed blood thinner is warfarin (Coumadin) since it has been around since the 1954 and has such a long track record. Newer medications are also available and they include dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto), and apixaban (Eliquis).
Blood thinners aren’t perfect. They have risks and drawbacks. There is always the risk of excessive bleeding and hemorrhaging.
If that happens while you’re on warfarin, there are antidotes that doctors can use to allow your blood to start clotting again. Dabigatran (Pradaxa), on the other hand, has no such antidote today.
The major drawback of warfarin, however, is patients need to undergo regular testing to ensure that their blood is staying within optimal treatment levels. This can be hard, since any change in your diet or exercise can cause a disruption. The regular testing required is especially a drawback for people that travel a lot.
Doctors usually have to keep adjusting the warfarin dosage in the beginning of a regimen to maintain optimal levels – and this constant adjusting may continue for some people if they can’t maintain the proper levels in their blood. This can become tiresome over time for patients. That’s why some patients opt for alternatives like Pradaxa.
Pradaxa patients do not need regular testing or any kind of diet and exercise control. They have a bit more flexibility and thus a higher quality of life, in spite of the risks.
However, Pradaxa patients also suffer from more side effects. It can cause heartburn, stomach pain, and diarrhea. In clinical trials, many people stop taking the drug because of these issues alone.
As you can see, there are pros and cons to the blood thinners that are available today in preventing strokes in atrial fibrillation patients. Unfortunately, there isn’t a “perfect” solution and your results will vary with each one.
That’s why it’s important to take an active role in working with your doctor to determine which one is best for you. If you are prescribed a blood thinner that is causing too many negative side effects, talk to your doctor about alternative medications!