Anticoagulants, such as warfarin and heparin, slow the formation blood clots and are prescribed to prevent heart attack and stroke, advises MedlinePlus. Doctors might also prescribe anticoagulants to patients with congenital heart defects, heart valve surgery or atrial fibrillation, a type of abnormal heart rhythm.
Patients with atrial fibrillation benefit most from anticoagulants as their heart does not fully pump blood out of the heart chambers, which can often result in clots, states the American Stroke Association. These clots can break free and cause a stroke.
Anticoagulant drugs are prescribed with caution because of common side effects. Anticoagulants often interact with other food and medication, altering the effectiveness of the drug, advises the American Stroke Association. Patients may also experience side effects such as skin rash, bruising and bleeding in the intestines, stomach or brain.
Anticoagulants are more aggressive than antiplatelets, the other type of blood thinner medication, and are generally prescribed to higher risk patients. Anticoagulants and antiplatelets, such as aspirin, are rarely prescribed in combination due to the increased risk of bleeding, states the American Stroke Association.
The American Stroke Association warns patients that although anticoagulant drugs may help prevent blood clots and future heart attacks or strokes, the patient must still make healthy lifestyle choices to maintain good health. These include exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet and not smoking.