Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Warfarin Lifestyle, Aortic Dissection and a St. Jude Device, #Marfan Syndrome

It happened again.  Out of nowhere comes a slow steady dripping, bright red blotches Jackson Pollock style across the open book page, table or as it was with yesterday's event, all over the shiny white bumper of the Lincoln.  The unmistakeable metallic scent of fresh blood fills my nose but as usual there is no pain, no twinge of a prick or sting of a slicing cut.  The ever increasing amount of afternoon sun brilliant, lipstick red blood splatter now has my explicit attention.

Warfarin and St. Jude Aortic Valve #Marfan
After being on warfarin, also known as Coumadin, Jantoven, Marevan, Lawarin and other brand names, for going on a couple years I now know and am familiar with the whole drippy routine.

First task is to find the source of the flowing blood.  Usually the best places to look are the toes, feet, fingers or head, depending upon where one is in the house or yard at the time the red splots start appearing.  Chances are if I am in the kitchen then the blood will be forehead presenting and a sharp cornered cabinet door probably open.  Yet kitchens too are notoriously awful places for the feet if the teens are in a hurry sweeping up glass shards of an accidentally dropped ceramic mug.

But if I am in the yard, I can expect the red alert will be the result of a garden utensil hiding in the path.  Blood in the bathroom is primarily indicative of a head wound from the shower door frame and so forth and so on.

The key to this entire blood thinner/anti-coagulant lifestyle is to find the cut or poke quickly, before you loose a quart of life's thirst quencher.  So yesterday when the red blotches started covering the rear bumper of the Lincoln I headed for the bathroom sink, mirror, hydrogen peroxide and band aids.  A big mirror will usually tell you right away about the blood's origin without an unnerving shriek teens or a spouse usually emit as I walk by covered in red.

Laughingly I can honestly say, life on anti-coagulants is not really as bad as it sounds.  When I first started taking warfarin I heard all kind of negative or bad comments like 'OMG!" and 'I can't believe you have to be on that horrible drug the rest of your life!'.  Other words of encouragement included statements like 'my mother's skin turned bright orange!' or 'my Uncle bled out before' and (really heard this one) 'Shit!  That stuff is rat poison!'.  Even a TEDx talk I watched about aortic aneurysms decried the blood anti-coagulant I was taking.

Understandably, warfarin and I had a not too happy introduction.

But perception can be quickly changed once one acquires hands on experience.

Yes, it is true warfarin, the anti-coagulant I was and still am taking, is used as rat poison.  However the more I researched this plant-based miracle drug, the less uncomfortable I became.

Don't get me wrong.  I  wish I never had to take any of the many medications I have to take.  But in reality the warfarin scare was mostly hype.
Warfarin allows my St Jude device to function without clotting

Again, please don't get me wrong.  I am sure some people have bled and coded out from the drug's use, but a quick meal of fresh garden collard greens or broccoli should stop any bleeding as vitamin K is the antidote for warfarin overdoses.  I am also sure that there are some warfarin taking bright orange people walking around out there too.

But what was really interesting was finding out why warfarin is used as a rat poison and the history behind the drug's discovery!

Back at the beginning of the twentieth century there were incidences of cattle dying after being castrated or dehorned, bleeding to death, their bodies unable to develop and implement the normal clotting and healing process.

Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, including Karl Link and clinics suspected that there was something in the cattle's diet was responsible for their inability to clot when wounded and bleeding.

Studies showed that there was a compound in the fermented clover the bulls were ingesting which interfered with prothrombin, the substance responsible for clotting action.  Further tests isolated a coumarin compound called dicoumarol.  Interestingly, though the clover produced the basic coumarins it was the fungi responsible for the moldy clover that actually converted the coumarins into the dicoumarol.

Without a medical use apparent, scientists and industry looked at and began using the dicoumarols as rodent poison.  When the rats ate the drug they bled out.  The substance interferes with vitamin K metabolism and as we know, vitamin K is essential for our blood clotting process.

One of the first human applications was Dwight Eisenhower when he was provided the drug after a heart attack in 1955.

The name warfarin is actually derived from a combination of the words found in the phrase 'Wisconsin Alumni Research Facility' and the word 'coumadin'.

Warfarin is important to me and many others because the anti-clotting effects allow for foreign objects in our body to function with reduced risk for the potential of blood clot formation.  For me this means warfarin allows my St. Jude aortic valve to open and close for many years without sticking due to clot formation (that could be fatal).  Disconcertingly though, data shows that warfarin use has its risks and mortality due to hemorrhaging does occur.

Yet to date my bleeding has been manageable. 

I do wear a bike helmet when cycling and always take a cautious approach when participating in activities with potential for serious trauma, carrying a variety of tape, band aids and antibiotic ointments in my backpack.  Backpack and band aids go where I go, be it for a short walk or trip to the store or even over to a relative's house.

Checking my PT/INR is easy.  INR stands for 'international normal ratio' and PT is 'prothrombin time' and both are used to calculate the body's clotting time efficiency.  Usually I will ask my daughter or wife to take me to the neighborhood medical laboratory, about a mile away for my once a month PT/INR test.  The lab sends the results to my primary care doctor who reviews the results and then either adjusts my dosage or says 'all looks good' and I wait until next month for another test.

I take on average about 5 mg warfarin each day.

And I've learned to type on the IPad with a band aid or two on my fingers, though this feat is not an easy one to become accustomed to.

Rest assured, I am not super excited about being on anti-coagulants for the rest of my life.  Yet warfarin is not as bad as I first imagined.

I am super happy the obnoxiously loud St. Jude aortic valve in my chest is still working as designed, and appreciative that warfarin helps keep the device from clogging up with fibrous clot material.

And the frequent red splots don't surprise me now as much as they once did.  Thank goodness for fermented cover.

1 comment:

Pam said...

Great post! It was 1997 when I got my shiny new St. Jude valve thanks to an emergency dissection surgery. Most of my surgeries have been planned and I sure wish this one would have been. The warfarin hasn't been as bad as I thought. The monthly checks are not that fun but I know the importance of staying in range. Thanks for sharing. Just started following your blog and look forward to more great posts.