Medication is available to help people who are at risk of atherothrombosis and related conditions (e.g. stroke, mini-stroke, heart attack, peripheral arterial disease, coronary artery disease). These medications may do one of the following:
- act to treat an underlying condition (e.g., diabetes, high cholesterol)
- act directly on the blood to prevent it from clotting (e.g., antiplatelet or anticoagulant medications)
Treating an underlying condition such as diabetes or high cholesterol often requires the use of medication as well as changes to diet and lifestyle. Proper treatment of conditions such as diabetes, high cholesterol, and obesity plays an important role in the prevention of atherothrombosis.
Two groups of medications that act directly on the blood are called antiplatelet medications and anticoagulant medications.
By increasing the time it takes for the blood to clot, anticoagulant medications can be effective in the treatment of stroke, mini-stroke, blood clots in the body, and other conditions. Warfarin is a common medication used to prevent blood from clotting.
Antiplatelet medications include acetylsalicylic acid (ASA), clopidogrel, dipyridamole, and ticlopidine. These medications slow down the activity of platelets, cells in the blood that are a part of the natural clotting process. Studies show that antiplatelet medications, taken regularly, reduce the risk of serious cardiovascular problems, including stroke, mini-stroke, and heart attacks by 25%. These drugs are sometimes used in combination with each other for added effect.
More and more research is being carried out on different antiplatelet medications. Even though ASA is the most widely used antiplatelet drug, another drug called clopidogrel has been proven through research to be modestly more effective than ASA in preventing a future stroke or mini-stroke in stroke survivors. This study also showed that clopidogrel was safer than ticlopidine and a safe alternative for people who cannot take ASA. Another study that compared the use of dipyridamole alone to aspirin alone showed there was no evidence of dipyridamole being more effective.
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