Anticoagulation Medication

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Find answers to your questions about heart valve repair and replacement.

Managing Your Anticoagulation Medication

If you have received a heart valve replacement, managing your heart valve medication is an important part of daily life following your heart valve surgery. You will need to take all of your medications as prescribed and understand what each one does.

Be sure to consult with your doctor:

  • If you have any questions about your prescribed and over-the-counter medications
  • Before taking any over-the-counter medications (such as aspirin) or herbal supplements

Always carry your patient device ID card with you because it indicates the medications you are taking, their dosages, your PT and INR levels, and the fact that you have received a heart valve.

About anticoagulation medications

If you received a mechanical heart valve, your doctor will likely prescribe an anticoagulant medication (blood thinner) to prevent blood clots from forming on or around your valve. Your doctor will determine the level of anticoagulant that is right for you based on guidelines and your medical situation.

Important things to know:

  • Other medicines may affect anticoagulants, so always check with your doctor or pharmacist before taking any other medication, including over-the-counter products such as aspirin.
  • Certain foods and alcohol may also affect how your anticoagulant works, so it is important to discuss your diet with your doctor.
  • Before you have any dental or medical procedure, notify your dentist and any other doctors and health care providers that you are on an anticoagulant, and that you have had heart valve surgery

Things to watch out for

When taking anticoagulant medication, consult your doctor if any of the following occur:

  • Excessive bruising
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Blood in your urine
  • Bloody or black, tarry stool
  • Unusual nosebleeds
  • Bleeding gums
  • Pregnancy or trying to become pregnant
  • Fever or other illnesses that include vomiting, diarrhea or infection

In general, contact your doctor if you develop any of the following symptoms:

  • Redness or drainage of your incision
  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of your feet or ankles
  • Chest, jaw, shoulder or arm pain
  • Bruising
  • Excessive bleeding
  • Blood in your urine
  • Bloody or black, tarry stool
  • Unusual nose bleeds
  • Fever
  • Numbness or tingling in your arms or legs
  • General weakness or loss of energy
  • Blurred or loss of vision
  • Unusual chest sensation

Anticoagulant testing options

Once you begin taking anticoagulation medications to prevent blood clots from forming on your mechanical heart valve, you will need regular blood tests to determine if the medication is working. You may go to a laboratory for testing or get a self-testing unit for home use.

Laboratory testing

Your doctor will ask you to come to the office or go to a laboratory about once a month for the clotting-time tests. Your doctor will use the test results to determine whether to change your anticoagulant medication dosage. To maintain proper levels, take your medication as prescribed and follow up with blood tests as scheduled.

Self-testing at home

Self-testing is a convenient alternative to laboratory testing and can help minimize complications from anticoagulation medications. With a self-testing service, you can perform a weekly finger-stick test. The results are communicated directly to your physician so he or she can closely monitor and adjust your medication dosage, as needed. Self-testing is only available with a doctor’s prescription and it does not replace the need for regular follow-up visits. Visit to learn more.

Tips for managing your medications

In addition to anticoagulation medication, your doctor may prescribe a variety of heart medications to alleviate pain, prevent infection, regulate blood pressure or address any other conditions you may have.

Keep these things in mind to help you manage your medications.

  • Keep a list of all of your medications with you and know how they work.
  • Take all of your medications as scheduled and set a routine for taking them at the same time every day, even if you think you are feeling better. Never discontinue a medication without first speaking to your doctor.
  • Do not decrease your drug dosage unless advised to do so by your doctor. You must take the prescribed amount of medication to get the full benefits.
  • Talk to your doctor before taking any over-the-counter drugs or herbal therapies.
  • If you forget to take a dose, take it as soon as you remember. Ask your doctor if you should skip it if you are close to your next scheduled dose.
  • When traveling, keep your medications and copies of your prescriptions with you.
  • Talk to your doctor before undergoing any medical or dental procedures. You may be prescribed an antibiotic prior to these procedures.