Anticoagulants for Pulmonary Embolism
Factor Xa inhibitors
Factor Xa specific inhibitors (used in the hospital)
How It Works
Anticoagulants work by increasing the time it takes a blood clot to form. They also prevent a clot from getting bigger.
Normally, when an injury that causes bleeding occurs, the body sends out signals that cause the blood to clot at the wound. The clot naturally breaks down as the wound heals. A person who is prone to abnormal clotting has an imbalance between clot formation and clot breakdown. Anticoagulants prevent the production of certain proteins that are needed for blood to clot. Anticoagulants do not break up or dissolve existing blood clots.
Why It Is Used
In people who have had pulmonary embolism, anticoagulants are used to prevent more blood clots from forming and causing another episode of pulmonary embolism. They are used in the hospital as first treatment of a pulmonary embolism. And they also may be used at home. Treatment with anticoagulants may continue throughout your life if your risk of having another pulmonary embolism remains high.
Heparin is given as an injection. It immediately affects the clotting system in your body. It might be the first anticoagulant used to treat pulmonary embolism. You might take heparin for a few days. Then you'll likely take another anticoagulant in pill form.
Rivaroxaban is taken as a pill. Rivaroxaban can be started right away for treatment or right after you stop taking heparin.
Warfarin is taken as a pill. Warfarin is usually started while a person is still being treated with heparin because it takes several days for warfarin to build up to a level that's effective. When warfarin is at the right level in your blood, you stop taking heparin shots and keep taking warfarin pills.
Fondaparinux is an injected anticoagulant. It is used only in the hospital.
How Well It Works
All medicines have side effects. But many people don't feel the side effects, or they are able to deal with them. Ask your pharmacist about the side effects of each medicine you take. Side effects are also listed in the information that comes with your medicine.
Here are some important things to think about:
Call your doctor right away if you have unusual bleeding:
If you are injured, apply pressure to stop the bleeding. Realize that it will take longer than you are used to for the bleeding to stop. If you can't get the bleeding to stop, call your doctor.
Allergic reaction: Call
Call your doctor if you have:
Heparin: Side effects often happen at injection sites. These side effects include:
Warfarin: Other side effects include:
See Drug Reference for a full list of side effects. (Drug Reference is not available in all systems.)
What To Think About
When you take anticoagulants, you need to take extra steps to avoid bleeding problems. These steps include:
Long-term use of heparin is not typically recommended. It requires one or two injections each day. And long-term use is linked with osteoporosis.
Medicine is one of the many tools your doctor has to treat a health problem. Taking medicine as your doctor suggests will improve your health and may prevent future problems. If you don't take your medicines properly, you may be putting your health (and perhaps your life) at risk.
There are many reasons why people have trouble taking their medicine. But in most cases, there is something you can do. For suggestions on how to work around common problems, see the topic Taking Medicines as Prescribed.
Advice for women
If you are pregnant: You will take heparin during your pregnancy. Heparin has not been shown to affect the fetus.
If you think you might be pregnant or plan to get pregnant: Talk with your doctor. You and your doctor will decide which medicine you will take during your pregnancy. Doctors don't know if rivaroxaban affects a fetus. This medicine might cause pregnancy-related bleeding. If you take rivaroxaban, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.
Do not take warfarin if you are pregnant. Warfarin can cause miscarriage or birth defects. If you are taking warfarin, talk to your doctor about how you can prevent pregnancy.
If you think you might be pregnant: Call your doctor. If you are pregnant, you will take heparin during your pregnancy.
If you plan on getting pregnant: Talk with your doctor. You and your doctor will decide which medicine you will take—warfarin or heparin—while trying to get pregnant.
For more information, see Pregnancy and the Increased Risk of Developing Blood Clots.
Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.
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