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What Is Antiplatelet Therapy?

By Jacquelyn Gilchrist
Updated May 17, 2024
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Antiplatelet therapy refers to treating a patient with a medication that prevents the platelets in the blood from forming clots. These drugs are often prescribed to those who are at a high risk of suffering a stroke or a heart attack. In high risk patients, blood clots can form in the arteries, heart, or brain, where they will block the normal flow of blood. Antiplatelet therapy can help prevent these blood clots, reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

A doctor can prescribe several different kinds of medications for antiplatelet therapy, depending on the patient's needs and his specific medical conditions. Many people take a low-dose, over-the-counter aspirin every day. Those who have peripheral vascular disease (PVD) may be prescribed phosphodiesterase inhibitors which helps prevent the leg pain that is common in these patients, in addition to lowering the risk of blood clots. Patients who have congestive heart failure should never use phosphodiesterase inhibitors, however, because they can increase the risk of death.

People who have PVD may also benefit from adenosine diphosphate (ADP) receptor inhibitors, especially if they have recently suffered a stroke or heart attack. These drugs may also be used in patients who have had a heart valve replacement and those with mitral valve disease. Another type of antiplatelet drug is an adenosine reuptake inhibitor, which is often taken in conjunction with a blood thinner.

In addition to lowering the risk for a heart attack or stroke, patients may use antiplatelet therapy drugs to prevent blood clots from forming around artificial medical devices, such as artificial heart valves and stents, implanted in the body. Patients who will undergo an implantation procedure for these devices may take a type of drug called a glycoprotein IIB/IIIA inhibitor which is administered intravenously, in the hospital.

There is a wide range of possible drugs for antiplatelet therapy, and so the possible side effects will also vary significantly. Patients should always discuss potential side effects with their doctors before taking the drugs. Some common, less severe side effects from these types of drugs may include nausea, upset stomach, and diarrhea, as well as fatigue, headache, and heartburn.

More severe side effects require a doctor's urgent care. These may include vomit with the appearance of coffee grounds, a fever, and a rapid heartbeat. Jaundice, problems breathing, and slurred speech may also occur. Some patients have reported joint pain, weakness, and bloody urine. Rarely, hallucinations, confusion, and allergic reactions may occur.

Before taking any new medication, patients must disclose their other medical conditions, medicines, and supplements. Women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should discuss possible risks with their doctors. Antiplatelet therapy may be contraindicated for use by those with anemia, hemophilia, or high blood pressure. It may interact with other drugs, including diuretics, blood thinners, and heartburn medications.

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