Updated on: August 18, 2014

What is heparin?

Heparin is a naturally occurring blood thinner (anticoagulant). It is widely used in a hospital based setting for the treatment of blood clots. It can be administered by IV injection or by injecting it underneath the skin (subcutaneous). Heparin can not be administered by mouth as it is broken down by the acidity in the stomach.

How does heparin work?

Heparin does not have the ability to dissolve already formed blood clots but can prevent the clot from getting bigger and also prevents the formation of new blood clots. Heparin can be used to treat blood clots in any part of the body.

Can heparin be used at home?

Yes, when the technique of injection is taught by a nurse/physician, heparin can be used for home use.

What are alternatives to heparin?

Today, there are analogs of heparin known as low molecular weight heparins (LMWH) that are also widely used. LMWH can be used in the hospital or at home. They can be used once a day, unlike heparin which has to be used at least twice a day. LMWH are also more expensive than heparin.

Who should not take heparin?

Heparin should not be taken if you have:

- a bleeding disorder (hemophilia)

- aneurysm (ballooning of a blood vessel)

- active bleeding from an ulcer

- liver disease

- allergy to heparin

- recent surgery

- recent delivery of a baby

- a diagnosis of heparin induced thrombocytopenia (even though heparin is a blood thinner, sometimes it paradoxically causes blood clots to form all over the body).

What happens if a dose of heparin is missed?

Missing a dose of heparin every now and then is of no consequence but one should try and keep on a routine schedule to avoid complications of missing the treatment.

What are side effects of heparin?

Since heparin is a blood thinner, it has a tendency to cause:

- easy bruising

- nose bleeds

- black stools (indicative of bleeding from an ulcer)

- dark urine

- coughing of blood

- heavy menstrual cycles

- bleeding when brushing teeth

- red eye

- rarely it can cause heparin induced thrombocytopenia

- osteoporosis (weakening of bone)

- Alopecia (hair loss)

Can heparin be taken during pregnancy?

Of all the blood thinners, only heparin is safe for use during pregnancy

Which medications should I avoid when taking heparin?

All medications like Aspirin, Motrin, Ibuprofen etc (non steroidal anti inflammatory drugs) have the ability to cause bleeding. So when they are combined with heparin, the potential of bleeding is increased manifold. One should use great caution when taking these medications and discuss this with their doctor.

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