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Antithrombotic Therapy
Basic Facts
The term thrombosis means the formation of a thrombus, a type of blood clot.
Thrombi can form on the wall of a blood vessel or in one of the chambers of the heart. When a thrombus obstructs blood flow to the heart or head, it can cause a heart attack or stroke.
Antithrombotic drugs include anticoagulants, which prevent blood from clotting, and antiplatelets, which prevent tiny discs that circulate in the blood, called platelets, from sticking to blood vessel walls and to one another.
The goals of antithrombotic therapy are to block the formation of new clots, prevent the growth of existing clots, and reduce a person's risk of complications from blood clots.
To prevent blood clot formation or to reduce the risk of future vascular problems, antithrombotic medications are prescribed if a patient has blood clots or is at risk for having a pulmonary embolism, heart attack, or stroke. These medications include:
  • Anticoagulants, which prevent clots from forming and existing clots from getting larger;
  • Antiplatelet medications, which inhibit clot formation by preventing the clumping of platelets in the blood; and
  • Hemorheologic agents, which decrease clotting and increase the flexibility of red blood cells, thinning the blood and enabling it to flow more easily through narrowed blood vessels.

Because of possible drug interactions, patients receiving antithrombotic therapy should consult with their physician when taking any prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, or herbal supplements. Other guidelines are specific to the type of antithrombotic therapy.

Anticoagulants. People with diabetes, severe allergies, high blood pressure, blood disorders, cancer, a history of internal bleeding, liver disease, and kidney disease should use caution when taking anticoagulants.

Pregnant women should avoid these medications.

Antiplatelet medications. People with low blood pressure, liver disease, or a history of ulcer disease should use caution when taking antiplatelets.

Patients should avoid alcohol consumption while taking this type of medication.

Pregnant or nursing women should consult their physician before taking antiplatelet medications.

Hemorheologic agents. People with liver disease, kidney disease, a recent stroke, stomach ulcers, or any blood disorder should consult their physician before taking hemorheologic agents.

Pregnant or nursing women should consult their physician before taking hemorheologic agents.


Anticoagulants. These medications usually take effect in 36 to 48 hours. Common side effects may include:
  • Nausea;
  • Skin rash;
  • Weight loss;
  • Diarrhea; and
  • Cramping.
Antiplatelet medications. These medications usually take effect in 10 minutes to 2 hours. Common side effects may include:
  • Indigestion;
  • Rash;
  • Headache;
  • Nausea;
  • Dizziness;
  • Body aches; and
  • Ringing in the ears.
Hemorheologic agents. These medications usually take effect within 2 days to 4 weeks. Common side effects may include:
  • Indigestion;
  • Rash;
  • Headache;
  • Nausea; and
  • Diarrhea.

Antithrombotic medication may require close supervision, which in some cases may include blood test. The patient should consult his or her physician before discontinuing medications. The patient should also notify his or her physician prior to having any type of surgery, including dental and gum surgery, as these types of medication can cause serious complications with surgery.

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