Direct oral anticoagulants
Anticoagulants are medicines that thin your blood and stop if from clotting as quickly. They might be prescribed for you if you are diagnosed with:
If you have atrial fibrillation, you are at a higher risk of getting blood clots in the brain and a stroke. Anticoagulants reduce this risk by stopping your blood from clotting as quickly as normal.
If you have a pulmonary embolism or deep vein thrombosis (DVT), an anticoagulant stops the clot from getting larger or new clots from forming.
Warfarin is a type of anticoagulant that has been used to treat clots for many years, but you need regular blood tests.
Direct oral anticoagulants (DOACs) can be used instead of warfarin. You take a fixed amount (dose) of them. This means that you do not need regular blood tests.
What DOACs can be taken for
DOACs can be taken instead of warfarin to treat:
- atrial fibrillation (AF), which is an irregular heart rhythm
- deep vein thrombosis (DVT), which is a blood clot in a deep vein (usually in your leg)
- pulmonary embolism (PE), which is a blood clot in a blood vessel of your lungs
How long to take a DOAC
How long you take the medicine depends on your condition.
Your doctor discusses this with you and confirms how long you need to continue your treatment.
For DVT or pulmonary embolism
- If this is your first DVT or PE, you usually take a DOAC for 3 to 6 months.
- For recurrent blood clots, you might have DOAC treatment in the long term.
For atrial fibrilation
If you have AF, you usually take a DOAC in the long term.
How to take the medicine
How you take the medicine, and how often, depends on the DOAC that you have been prescribed. Each medicine comes in different strengths and doses.
DOACs that you might take include:
Please follow the dosage instructions given by your doctor, nurse or pharmacist. Your medicine box is labelled with the correct dosage for you. You need to take your medicine at the same time every day, with or after food if advised.
Always read the leaflet that comes with your medicine. Speak to your doctor or pharmacist if you have any questions.
If you forget to take your medicine
If you miss a dose, take it as soon as you remember.
Do not double up on the total daily dose.
Please look at the information leaflet with your medicine for specific details. You can also call our pharmacy medicines helpline for advice on 020 7188 8748 from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
Bleeding is the most common side effect of DOACs because they increase the time it takes for your blood to clot.
Get medical advice immediately if you:
- hit your head or were involved in an accident
- have long-lasting nosebleeds (over 10 minutes)
- have blood in your urine or poo (including black, tar-like poo)
- vomit blood
- have unexplained or severe bruising or bleeding
If you have bleeding from a wound, apply pressure to the wound.
If the bleeding does not stop within 10 minutes, go to the emergency department (A&E).
We recommend that you carry an anticoagulation card with you at all times, in case of emergency. If you do not have the card, please ask your pharmacist for one.
Your other medicines
Your doctor reviews your medicines when you are first prescribed a DOAC and makes any necessary changes.
Some medicines do not mix well with DOACS. These can include:
- vitamin supplements
- herbal remedies
- other medicines that you buy from a pharmacy or shop
It is important that you:
- check with a pharmacist before starting or stopping any medicines
- avoid taking any other medicines that may increase your risk of bleeding (such as aspirin or ibuprofen), unless your doctor specifically prescribes them for you
If you need painkillers, paracetamol and codeine are OK.
You need to tell other healthcare professionals who look after you that you take a DOAC. This includes anyone who prescribes you medicines, reviews your medicines or does a procedure, such as a dentist.
Diet and alcohol
You do not need to change what you eat when taking a DOAC. It is important to keep a healthy and balanced diet.
Alchocol does not directly affect DOACs. We recommend that you do not drink more than the safe limits of alcohol (14 units each week). Drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of bleeding.
If you are pregnant
If you have DVT or pulmonary embolism, we do not recommend that you get pregnant while taking a DOAC.
Tell your doctor straight away if you become pregnant. You then need to change to a different medicine.
Soon after starting treatment, you might have a hospital appointment. This is to make sure that you do not have any problems with your new medicine.
- If you have atrial fibrillation, you see a cardiologist (heart specialist) or haematologist (blood specialist).
- If you have DVT or pulmanory embolism, a thrombosis specialist at Guy's Hospital sees you.
After 3 months of treatment, your GP usually takes over your care. If this is not possible, the hospital team continues prescribing your medicine.
Your GP orders routine tests at least once a year. These tests check if your kidneys work well and if you have any side effects.
Useful sources of information
The MedTap app allows patient and carers to watch short videos, which give similar information to that discussed during consultations.
We recommend that you always carry an anticoagulant card with you in case of emergency. If you do not already have the card, please ask your pharmacist for one.
Always speak to a doctor before you stop taking your medicine.