What should I know about antiplatelet agents?

Antiplatelet medicines keep blood clots from forming by preventing blood platelets from sticking together. They’re used as part of a treatment for patients with atherosclerosis or with increased clotting tendencies.

Atherosclerosis is the process by which deposits of cholesterol form along inner walls of blood vessels, creating the conditions for blood clots to form.

• Antiplatelets are generally prescribed preventively, when atherosclerosis is evident but there is not yet a large obstruction in the artery.

• Antiplatelet drugs include aspirin, ticlopidine, clopidogrel and dipyridamole. 

What are antiplatelet agents used for? 

When doctors want to help patients prevent strokes caused by a blood clot, one medical therapy works by improving blood flow. Both anticoagulants and antiplatelet agents are medicines that interfere with the blood’s ability to clot in an artery, vein or the heart.

What is Stroke? 

A stroke is sometimes called a "brain attack."  

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is suddenly interrupted or when a blood vessel in the brain bursts, spilling blood into the spaces surrounding brain cells. Brain cells die when they no longer receive oxygen and nutrients from the blood or there is sudden bleeding into or around the brain. The symptoms of a stroke include sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body; sudden confusion or trouble speaking or understanding speech; sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes; sudden trouble with walking, dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination; or sudden severe headache with no known cause. There are two forms of stroke: ischemic - blockage of a blood vessel supplying the brain, and hemorrhagic - bleeding into or around the brain.

What causes a stroke?

There are two major kinds of stroke.

The first, called an ischemic stroke, is caused by a blood clot that blocks or plugs a blood vessel or artery in the brain. About 80 percent of all strokes are ischemic. The second, known as a hemorrhagic stroke, is caused by a blood vessel in the brain that breaks and bleeds into the brain. About 20 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

The symptoms of stroke are distinct because they happen quickly:

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm, or leg (especially on one side of the body)
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking or understanding speech
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden severe headache with no known cause

Is there any treatment?

Generally there are three treatment stages for stroke: prevention, therapy immediately after the stroke, and post-stroke rehabilitation. Therapies to prevent a first or recurrent stroke are based on treating an individual's underlying risk factors for stroke, such as hypertension, atrial fibrillation, and diabetes. Acute stroke therapies try to stop a stroke while it is happening by quickly dissolving the blood clot causing an ischemic stroke or by stopping the bleeding of a hemorrhagic stroke. Post-stroke rehabilitation helps individuals overcome disabilities that result from stroke damage. Medication or drug therapy is the most common treatment for stroke. The most popular classes of drugs used to prevent or treat stroke are antithrombotics (antiplatelet agents and anticoagulants) and thrombolytics.

What can I do to prevent a stroke?

The best treatment for stroke is prevention. There are several risk factors that increase your chances of having a stroke:

  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease
  • Smoking
  • Diabetes
  • High cholesterol

If you smoke – quit. If you have high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, or high cholesterol, getting them under control – and keeping them under control – will greatly reduce your chances of having a stroke.

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