What Is a Clot Buster?

Jacquelyn Gilchrist

A clot buster is a medication that works by dissolving blood clots, which obstruct blood flow to the heart or brain. Patients who have suffered a heart attack or stroke may undergo thrombolytic therapy in the hospital, which is the administration of clot buster drugs. These types of drugs can improve the chances of survival and reduce the damage that a heart attack or stroke inflicts on the body. Not all patients are good candidates for thrombolytic therapy, and even those who can receive this therapy may still need additional treatments.

Clot buster drugs dissolve clots that obstruct the flow of blood in the human body.
Clot buster drugs dissolve clots that obstruct the flow of blood in the human body.

Before using a clot buster, patients or their caregivers should inform the health care team about all medicines being used, including blood thinners, aspirin, and other over-the-counter pain relievers. These can elevate the risk of bleeding. In addition, some types of thrombolytic therapy may not be administered to any patient who has already used one of these drugs in the previous six months.

While a clot buster can help save lives, it is not available to all patients. The doctor will use other treatments in people who have had a recent head injury, a recent surgery, or those who have recently had cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Those who have uncontrolled high blood pressure, severe liver disease, or a bleeding disorder, as well as patients with an active peptic ulcer or a history of bleeding in the brain may also be unable to use a clot buster. Women who are pregnant cannot receive thrombolytic therapy.

A clot buster is intended for administration to a heart attack patient within 12 hours of the beginning of the heart attack. When given within this time period, it can help prevent fatalities. Those who have suffered a stroke will ideally receive a clot buster within three hours. This can help reduce the damage that the stroke can inflict. It is important to note that only patients with an ischemic stroke may receive this treatment and it is not available for those with a hemorrhagic stroke, because this can worsen the condition.

The doctor will likely perform a physical examination, take a medical history, and order a brain imaging test before administering the drug. It will be given intravenously, or into a vein. One of the common clot buster drugs is called tissue plasminogen activator (tPA). This is the only thrombolytic agent that a doctor may use for a stroke patient; however, it can also be used for those suffering a heart attack. Other clot busters include streptokinase, urokinase, and tenecteplase.

Some side effects are possible with the use of these types of medicines. These can include fever, low blood pressure, or an allergic reaction. Some patients may suffer from bleeding from the injection site or may have bloody gums, bloody urine, or unusual nosebleeds.

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