Blood thinners, or anticoagulants, work to stop clots from forming, which can be instrumental in preventing heart attacks or stroke, especially for high-risk patients. However, the main side effect of taking blood thinners is a potential for excessive bleeding if the blood doesn’t have the ability to clot. So, to most doctors and patients, it has seemed like a no-brainer to stop taking blood thinners before surgery to prevent excessive bleeding. For years, this has been the accepted practice for patients and the recommendation from doctors. Now, a new study suggests the restriction of blood thinners before surgery might not be as obvious as we once thought.
The New England Journal of Medicine published a study this past May that indicated blood thinners might have little effect on surgery outcomes and, surprisingly, certain procedures might actually benefit from the effects of blood thinners. In the case of surgeries that implanted heart-stimulating devices like pacemakers or defibrillators, the blood thinner warfarin (more commonly known as coumodin) was shown to actually reduce the risk of post-surgery bleeding. If further investigations into the study’s claims prove true, the benefits of such a finding would be, as Dr. Kevin R. Campbell put it in this EveryDay Health article, a “game changer.”
Current protocol has high-risk patients withdraw from warfarin before heart surgeries and switch to heparin, a different anticoagulant given intravenously. If the results of the study are confirmed and this step becomes unnecessary, patients would have shorter hospitalization periods, allowing hospitalization costs to decline.
Though the study only focused on surgeries that implanted heart-stimulating devices, if the results prove correct, the same principles could be applied to other surgeries. However, in the meantime, be sure to adhere to your doctor’s recommendations and do not change your current anticoagulant routine without first speaking to your doctor.