What’s the Difference Between Heparin and Warfarin?

While heparin and warfarin are both anticoagulants, heparin provides an immediate response, while warfarin is generally used for long-term treatment, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Heparin is an injection, while warfarin is an oral medication. The two medications also differ in the mechanism by which they work.

One use of heparin and warfarin is in the treatment of deep vein thrombosis in the upper leg, according to WebMD. The two medications help to prevent the formation of more blood clots or stop the existing clot from getting any larger. While traditional heparin treatment required intravenous therapy and a hospital stay of five to seven days, low-molecular-weight heparin allows patients to give their own injections at home. Johns Hopkins Medicine indicates long-term use of heparin sometimes leads to osteoporosis.

Warfarin therapy for deep vein thrombosis usually lasts for three to six months, explains WebMD. During this therapy, it is essential that patients avoid missing a single dose of the medication. The doctor orders regular blood work to ensure the patient is receiving the correct dosage. Warfarin blocks the production of vitamin K in the liver to reduce blood clotting, states Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Blood thinners have potentially serious side effects, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine. Because they prevent clotting, patients find they bleed excessively. The medications also increase the chances of developing gangrene.