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Biology and Genetics - Oral Blood Thinners and Thrombosis Risk

Currently, long-term treatment with oral blood thinners is the most effective treatment to prevent new blood clots from forming in patients with history of unexplained blood clots. However, blood thinners can lead to complications, for example internal bleeding.  Once therapy with blood thinners is stopped the chance of blood clot recurrence is elevated.

An abnormal blood clot inside a blood vessel is called thrombosis. Blood clots can develop in the deep veins of the legs or arms (called deep vein thrombosis), and in the lungs (called pulmonary embolism). Sometimes there is an explanation why these blood clots develop (e.g. leg is immobilized in a cast); this is called a provoked blood clot. Over half of the time however, there is no apparent reason (this is called an unprovoked blood clot). Patients diagnosed with blood clots with no identifiable cause are usually treated with long-term therapy with an oral blood thinner (called warfarin) to prevent the formation of new blood clots.  Currently, long-term treatment with oral blood thinners is the most effective treatment to prevent new blood clots from forming in patients with history of unexplained blood clots. However, blood thinners can lead to dangerous bleeding and once therapy with blood thinners is stopped the chance of another blood clot is high.  The risk of having a new blood clot is dramatically reduced for patients on warfarin but the risk of bleeding and mortality due to bleeding increases. In addition, the quality of life of patients on long-term anticoagulants is greatly affected due to the nuisance of continuous laboratory checkups, food restrictions, and daily life modifications. New tools based on simple clinical signs and symptoms are being investigated that will allow physicians to identify patients who are at very high risk of a new blood clot (who will benefit from warfarin) and who are at very low risk of a new blood clot (may not need warfarin). New blood thinners that may be as effective as warfarin at preventing new blood clots and with less risk of bleeding are also been developed.

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Contributors:  Betancourt Marisol

Last Reviewed:  June 5, 2012

 



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