Antiplatelet Medications: A Valuable Tool for Coronary Artery Disease
Antiplatelet medicine can help reduce the risk of heart attack in people with coronary artery disease.
Once you learn you have coronary artery disease (CAD), preventing a heart attack becomes a top priority. Antiplatelet medicines can help prevent blood clots from forming. This is an essential strategy for heading off a heart attack.
Antiplatelet basics, aspirin and more
Aspirin, the most common antiplatelet medicine, is sold over the counter. Take it only as directed by your doctor for heart attack prevention. Two prescription antiplatelets are clopidogrel bisulfate (Plavix) and ticlopidine hydrochloride (Ticlid). These are sometimes called “superaspirins.”
- Daily aspirin therapy is often prescribed for people who have had a heart attack, have been diagnosed with coronary artery disease, or who are at high risk for coronary artery disease. This includes people with high cholesterol, diabetes, high blood pressure or who smoke.
- Prescription antiplatelet drugs (clopidogrel or ticlopidine) may be prescribed if you have coronary artery disease and can’t take aspirin. Your doctor may also want you to take them if you’ve already had a heart attack. They may be prescribed after treatment for heart disease or heart attack, such as angioplasty or bypass surgery. Some in this group may be prescribed both clopidogrel and aspirin.
How antiplatelets work
Platelets are cells in the blood that clump together to stop bleeding at the site of an injury. A blood clot helps stop bleeding when you are cut. But a blood clot inside a coronary artery can block blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack. Antiplatelet medicines stop the platelets from clumping, and so help to prevent a potentially deadly blood clot.
For many people, the benefits to taking antiplatelets generally outweigh the risks, but you will need to work closely with your doctor while taking the drugs. For instance, it is important to:
- Keep all doctor’s appointments and get blood tests done as advised. These can help monitor how the medicine is working for you and if you are getting the proper dose.
- Talk to your doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines for pain or cold relief. Some drugs, such as those that contain aspirin, can cause bleeding problems when taken with an antiplatelet medicine.
- Let your doctor or dentist know you are taking an antiplatelet medicine before having surgery or dental work done. You may need to stop taking the medicine for a short time.
- Never stop taking the medicine without talking to your doctor first.
Remember, medication is just one part of a treatment plan for CAD. It is also very important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Here are the basics:
- Exercise. Aim to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most or all days of the week. Be sure to get your doctor’s OK before you start a new exercise routine.
- Eat a heart-healthy diet. That means more fiber-rich foods – such as fruits, legumes and whole grains – and those low in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol.
- Lose weight if you need to. Eating well and exercising can help you reach a healthy weight.
- Don’t smoke. Talk to your doctor for help with quitting.
- Take it easy. Find ways to lessen or better cope with the stress in your life.
Talk with your doctor about other strategies that may lower your risk of a heart attack or other complications from CAD.