What you need to know about blood thinners before knee surgery

In the United States each year, over half a million people have knee replacement surgery. Osteoarthritis is usually the cause.

When everyday life becomes too painful, or when medication no longer helps the inflammation and pain, a knee replacement is often the only option.

During the time following surgery when you can’t move around, there’s a big risk of developing a deadly blood clot.

Doctors prescribe anticoagulant drugs to break up and prevent these clots. But the drugs come with their own set of complications and side effects. Ironically, some even cause blood clots and increase the risk of stroke.

Now there’s research to show that something you’ve got in your medicine cabinet may do the job just as well, if not better, and without the risks.

But before we go there, let’s take a quick look at why blood clots happen after surgery, and why they can be deadly.

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Why blood clots form

There are two reasons that blood clots tend to form after surgery.

The first is inactivity, and this is especially true after a knee replacement.

Muscle movement is needed to pump blood to your heart continuously. When you are inactive for a long period of time, blood tends to collect in the legs and hips, and to coagulate, or clot.

This scenario can lead to a deadly condition called deep vein thrombosis, where blood clots form in the deeper veins within the body. They break off, travel through the bloodstream and to the heart, lungs or brain, where they cause heart failure, pulmonary embolism or stroke.

The other reason for clotting is the surgical “debris” that can enter your bloodstream during surgery, including tissue, collagen, and fat.

The dangers of blood thinners

The first line of defense against blood clots is usually anticoagulants or blood thinners, medications like Warfarin, rivaroxaban (Xarelto) or heparin.

Unfortunately, one side effect of these drugs is often uncontrolled bleeding. This can be dangerous, especially for people with kidney disease, ulcers, or irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation).

Warfarin can cause joint pain, coughing up blood, dizziness and bloody stools.

Xarelto is known to cause muscle spasms, heavy bleeding, and spinal hematoma, a blood clot on the spine that can be lethal.

Taking heparin can lead to thrombocytopenia, a dangerously low blood platelet count that can cause uncontrollable bleeding.

All of these serious side effect possibilities are about as scary as facing a blood clot! So…

What about aspirin?

Many people take a daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks. Lately, however, there’s been a little controversy about its use, begging the question: is aspirin too risky considering it can lead to brain bleeds, hemorrhages, and stroke.

Well, you might recall the news out of the New England Journal of Medicine that cautioned aspirin use for healthy people. But when it came down to it, the consensus was that if you have any type of heart or vascular disease that puts you at risk for future heart attacks and strokes, aspirin can be a good thing and could save your life.

So, there’s no doubt that aspirin is a viable alternative to dangerous blood thinners in situations where the threat of a clot is great, which can be the scenario with knee surgery.

But researchers at the Department of Orthopedic Surgery at the University of Michigan wanted to know if aspirin alone was at least as effective as blood thinners at breaking up clots in people who’d had a knee replacement.

They looked at 573 patients who’d had a blood clot after knee surgery. Of those, 149 had received aspirin alone, 321 only received anticoagulant drugs, and 71 took both aspirin and medication.

In another study, a group of 3,424 knee and hip replacement patients were given rivaroxaban for five days. After that, some remained on the blood thinner, while others switched to aspirin.

There was no significant difference between the two in terms of preventing blood clots.

Natural blood thinners

As always, nature provides us with some answers. Always check with your doctor before using any of these to prevent blood clots. If you are already on a prescription blood thinner, you’ll want to talk with your doctor before using these remedies.

Turmeric. Many people don’t realize that there’s a connection between inflammation and clotting. Curcumin, the main ingredient in turmeric, is well-known for controlling inflammation. It also works to prevent clot formation.

Ginger belongs to a group of plants that contains salicylate, the main component of aspirin. Cherries and avocados also contain this ingredient.

Cinnamon. This favorite fall spice contains coumarin, a natural anticoagulant that also relieves inflammation.

Cayenne peppers. No, you don’t have to bite into these hot peppers to get their benefits. Cayenne is available in capsule form. It, too, is a natural blood thinner and can lower blood pressure and increase circulation.

Vitamin E. Eating foods rich in this vitamin can help prevent clotting. Spinach, tomatoes, sunflower seeds, broccoli, and almonds are some of these.

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Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.