What types of anticoagulants are there?
Anticoagulants are divided into different groups. The most suitable type of anticoagulant will depend on the medical condition that needs to be treated:
- Antiplatelets are mainly suitable for people who have had a heart attack or a stroke due to arteriosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels). The most commonly used antiplatelet is acetylsalicylic acid (the drug in medicines like Aspirin). Antiplatelets are taken as tablets.
- Oral anticoagulants are much more effective than antiplatelets. Examples include vitamin K antagonists and direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs). These medications are mainly used in the treatment of atrial fibrillation, after implanting artificial heart valves, or after a pulmonary (lung) embolism. Some of them can be used after major surgery, in order to reduce the risk of deep vein thrombosis – or after a pulmonary embolism, to prevent further embolisms from developing. Oral anticoagulants are also taken as tablets.
- Heparin is particularly suitable for acute treatment, for instance in venous thrombosis or pulmonary embolism. It is injected under the skin or into a vein, and starts working very soon.
- The medication fondaparinux is also injected under the skin – mainly for the acute treatment of thrombosis and pulmonary embolism, or for the prevention of thrombosis.
The choice of anticoagulant will also depend on the person's age, other medical problems they may have, interactions with other drugs and – in rare cases – allergies.