Anticoagulants are drugs generally used as a secondary form of treatment for such diseases in which the formation of blood clots may cause serious problems. The oral anticoagulant warfarin, for example, is often prescribed by doctors for pulmonary embolism.
Classified as a disease of the respiratory organs, pulmonary embolism is caused by the plugging of a branch of the pulmonary artery, which carries blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs. The blockage results from thrombosis (the formation of a clot in the artery), or, in most cases, from a piece of clot carried by the bloodstream to the lung from a thrombus located elsewhere.
The onset of pulmonary embolism is characterized by a sudden piercing pain in the chest which radiates to the shoulder. The affected individual experiences breathing difficulty, has an irritating cough and, in most cases, blood-tinged sputum. In other cases, there is persistent hiccup, rapid pulse, profuse sweating, and a rise in body temperature. In severe cases of pulmonary embolism, the affected individual may be in a state of shock.
As part of a treatment program for pulmonary embolism, warfarin (the brand name Coumadin, of Bristol-Myers Squibb, is an example) acts by depressing the body’s normal production of various factors which are known to play a part in the coagulation process. Those taking warfarin, however, should note that it is absolutely important to take the exact dose in the precise way prescribed by the doctor; if not used properly, warfarin can be extremely dangerous. Any sign of unusual bruising or bleeding, such as the appearance of black-and-blue marks, should be reported to the doctor immediately. Also requiring the doctor’s prompt attention are instances when a patient passes blood in his/her urine or stool, or when he/she passes a black tarry stool.
Those who are taking oral anticoagulants, including warfarin, have reported such adverse effects as nausea, vomiting, bleeding from peptic ulcers, diarrhea, anemia, blood in the urine, yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice), rash, itching, fever, sore throat and mouth, and loss of hair. In all likelihood, a doctor will not prescribe warfarin to pregnant women and nursing mothers.
The outcome of any case of pulmonary embolism – a decidedly dangerous condition – depends upon the size of the affected area of lung tissue. Prompt treatment by a doctor in a hospital is of utmost importance. Hospital treatment of pulmonary embolism consists of the prevention of infection, the administration of oxygen, and, again, the use of anticoagulants like warfarin.
1. “Warfarin”, on MedicineNet.com – http://www.medicinenet.com/warfarin/article.htm
2. “Pulmonary Embolism”, on eMedicine, by Craig F. Feied, MD, FACEP, FAAEM, FACPh, Professor of Emergency Medicine, Georgetown University School of Medicine, General Manager, Microsoft Enterprise Health Solutions Group; and Jonathan A. Handler, MD, Director of Informatics, Assistant Professor, Department of Emergency Medicine, Northwestern Memorial Hospital – http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/759765-overview
3. “Pulmonary embolism”, on MayoClinic.com – http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pulmonary-embolism/DS00429