Warfarin is Rat poison!

I hear this statement at least a few times a week, whether it be from a patient that is already on warfarin or from a new patient that is not yet on it.  Usually it is in the form of “I don’t want to take that rat poison! My friend takes it etc etc etc…”  So, what do I do with that?  I have to admit, sometimes I chuckle inside, but at the same time, I understand what they mean and where they are coming from.  I try to explain a little about warfarin and how it became…

According to Wikipedia: “Warfarin was initially introduced in 1948 as a pesticide against rats and mice and is still used for this purpose, although more potent poisons have since been developed. In the early 1950s, warfarin was found to be effective and relatively safe for preventing thrombosis and thromboembolism in many disorders. It was approved for use as a medication in 1954, and has remained popular ever since. Warfarin is the most widely prescribed oral anticoagulant drug in North America.

Warfarin is a synthetic derivative of dicoumariol. Dicoumarol is a natural chemical substance of combined plant and fungal origin. It is a derivative of coumarin, a bitter-tasting but sweet-smelling substance made by plants that does not itself affect coagulation, but which is (classically) transformed in mouldy feeds or silages by a number of species of fungi, into active dicoumarol. Dicoumarol does affect coagulation, and was discovered in mouldy wet sweet-clover hay, as the cause of a naturally occurring bleeding disease in cattle.”

Ok, so maybe it still doesn’t sound so great, but if you keep reading, and I keep explaining, I then turn it into all the positives things that warfarin can do and what a great accidental finding it was back then.  Most of the time, the risks of NOT taking it far outweigh the risks of taking it.  After reviewing my patient’s case in detail, they come to a better understanding of why they require anticoagulation, and hence, warfarin, in their instance.

I think the moral of the story is not to jump too high when you hear what warfarin is or what it is about. We providers and medical professionals would not treat patients with it if it were actually “poison.”  Think of it as a good poison, in order for you to potentially prolong your life!!!

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