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Antiplatelet Drugs: Fight Clots, Protect Hearts
Antiplatelet medicines, including aspirin, can help reduce the risk of heart attack in people with coronary artery disease.

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Antiplatelet Drugs: Fight Clots, Protect Hearts

If you have coronary artery disease (CAD), preventing a heart attack is a top priority. Antiplatelet drugs can help prevent blood clots from forming. This is an essential strategy for heading off a heart attack.

Antiplatelet basics, aspirin and more
Aspirin is the most common antiplatelet medicine. It is sold over the counter. Take it only as directed by your doctor for heart attack prevention.

Daily aspirin therapy is often prescribed for people who have had a heart attack. Aspirin may also be recommended for people with or at high risk of CAD. This includes people with high cholesterol, diabetes or high blood pressure. It also includes people who smoke.

Common prescription antiplatelets are clopidogrel and ticlopidine. Prasugrel is among the newer medications.

Prescription anti-platelets may be prescribed if you have CAD and can't take aspirin. You may be directed to take them if you've already had a heart attack. They may be used after procedures such as angioplasty or bypass surgery. Stents also carry a high risk of clotting. In these cases, prescription antiplatelet drugs are often paired with aspirin.

How antiplatelets work
Platelets are cells in the blood. They 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 in a coronary artery can block blood flow to the heart, which can cause a heart attack. Antiplatelet drugs stop platelets from clumping to help prevent these blood clots.

For many people, the benefits of taking antiplatelets outweigh the risks. But you still need to work closely with your doctor while taking the drugs. For instance, it is important to:

  • Talk to your doctor before taking over-the-counter medicines. Some drugs can cause bleeding problems when taken with an antiplatelet. These include common pain and cold medications.
  • Let all your health providers know you are taking an antiplatelet medicine. The drug may cause you to bleed too much during surgery or dental work. You may need to stop taking it for a short time, but this should be discussed with your prescribing physician.
  • Never stop taking the medicine without talking to your doctor first.

Beyond medication
Remember, medication is just one part of treatment for CAD. It is also important to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Here are the basics:

  • Exercise. Most adults should get 2.5 hours of aerobic activity a week. Spread it out throughout the week for the most benefit. Even 10 minutes at a time helps. Be sure to get your doctor's OK before you start a new exercise plan.
  • Eat a heart-healthy diet. That means many fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, legumes and whole grains. Avoid foods high in saturated fat, sodium and cholesterol.
  • Lose weight if you need to. Eating well and regular physical exercise can help you reach and maintain a healthy weight. Aim for a BMI (body mass index) of less than 25.
  • Don't smoke. Talk to your doctor about getting help with quitting.
  • Take it easy. Find ways to lessen or cope with the stress in your life.

Talk with your doctor about other ways to lower your CAD risks.

Emily A. King contributed to this report.

By Mindy Pen, Contributing Writer
Created on 11/03/2009
Updated on 01/09/2013
  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Talk with your health care provider about taking aspirin to prevent heart attacks.
  • National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. How is coronary heart disease treated?
  • Aspirin and cardiovascular disease.
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