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What is Pentoxifylline?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 17, 2024
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Pentoxifylline, known by brand names like Pentoxil® and Trental®, is a medication that increases blood flow in the body. This medication is primarily used in the management of intermittent claudication, where people develop muscle cramps and soreness in the extremities as a result of partially obstructed bloodflow. The pentoxifylline will improve microcirculation, ensuring muscles get enough nutrients and oxygen and addressing the sometimes painful cramping and stiffness to make patients feel more comfortable. Peripheral artery disease (PAD) is a common culprit behind intermittent claudication, although other conditions may be involved as well.

The exact mechanism of this medication is not fully understood. It appears to inhibit the activities of certain enzymes to reduce the viscosity of the blood, improving circulation when blood vessels are narrow or partially impassable. This trait has made the medication useful for the management of vascular dementia, where decreased bloodflow to the brain causes neurological problems, and the drug may be used to treat patients with this condition.

Side effects for patients on pentoxifylline vary. Some common issues are dizziness, nausea, insomnia, and headaches. Some patients notice changes to their vision. More seriously, the drug can cause liver problems and may be dangerous for the heart in some patients. People who notice persistent debilitating side effects should contact a doctor. Signs of jaundice, indicating acute liver dysfunction, should be addressed as quickly as possible.

This medication has been linked with the development of birth defects. For this reason, pentoxifylline is not recommended in pregnant women. The effects on breastmilk are unknown and some doctors recommend against using it in nursing mothers. A doctor may decide that the benefits of the medication outweigh the risks, and go ahead and prescribe it during pregnancy, if a patient is willing to be carefully monitored for signs of bad reactions to the drug. Alternative medications and therapies may be considered first to see if poor circulation can be managed with safer means.

Pentoxifylline is available by prescription only, and it can interact badly with blood thinners and other drugs known to have a thinning effect on the blood, even if this is not their primary purpose. Patients taking such medications are at increased risk of excessive bleeding, and pentoxifylline can elevate that risk, potentially exposing patients to easy bruising, which is anemia caused by bleeding problems and internal bleeding, a potentially dangerous complication. Patients with blood disorders and those on anticoagulants should talk to their doctors before starting pentoxifylline therapy.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

Read more
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