Plavix is a prescription medication that can help prevent heart attacks and death in patients who have had a previous heart attack, a stroke, unstable angina or peripheral artery disease (PAD). The drug was approved by the FDA in 1997 and is also sold in its generic form, which is called clopidogrel bisulfate.
Understanding the Cause of Heart Attacks and Strokes
Heart attacks and strokes are usually caused by blood clots. In patients with atherosclerosis, arteries gradually become narrowed by plaque accumulation. Eventually, blockages develop. If a portion of arterial plaque suddenly ruptures, it restricts blood flow and allows clots to form. When a clot prevents the affected organ from receiving enough oxygenated blood, serious damage or tissue death takes place. When this occurs in the heart, it’s called a heart attack. If it happens inside the brain, it’s called a stroke.
Why are Some People at Higher Risk?
Patients with a recent history of major cardiovascular events have a higher risk of forming more of the same dangerous blood clots that led to their previous heart attacks or strokes. Even people who suffer from PAD, which typically causes pain associated with restricted blood flow in the legs, are at increased risk of blood clots and heart attacks; the same disease process that occurs in leg arteries is often accompanied by silent arterial disease elsewhere in the body. Plavix reduces the risk of potentially fatal heart attacks and strokes in all these patients.
How Does Plavix Work?
In order for a blood clot to form, special blood cells called platelets must stick or group together. It’s part of a normal process called coagulation, and it’s the body’s way of preventing excessive bleeding when an injury occurs. Unfortunately, this normal reaction can quickly become lethal in the presence of narrowed arteries and ruptured plaque. Plavix effectively blocks the action of platelets so that they are unable to form clots as easily; it’s commonly known as a blood thinner or anticoagulant drug, and it works by the same mechanism as aspirin.
Is Plavix Right for Everyone?
Plavix has proven to be as effective as aspirin for reducing clot formation. Aspirin is inexpensive and time-proven. However, some patients cannot tolerate it due to gastrointestinal problems, side effects or allergies. Plavix can be offered as a replacement. Many doctors also prescribe Plavix as an adjunct therapy along with aspirin for patients who can tolerate both, since the combination can be more effective than either drug by itself. Besides protecting patients with histories of cardiovascular events, Plavix can also be helpful for preventing clots related to angioplasty or stent procedures.