Harvard Heart Letter

Conversation with an expert: Plavix: What you need to know

Readers often ask us about the use and safety of Plavix after angioplasty. We turned for answers to Dr. Patrick O'Gara, a member of the Heart Letter editorial board, who helped write a clinical alert about Plavix for the American Heart Association.

Almost every medical advance raises issues that demand creative problem-solving. Take artery-opening angioplasty. It uses a tiny balloon to flatten a cholesterol-filled plaque, restoring blood flow through a narrowed or blocked coronary artery without open-heart surgery. A wire-mesh stent is usually left behind to hold open the artery. However, blood clots sometimes form on a stent. This can block blood flow through the artery, causing a heart attack or sudden cardiac arrest. Taking a drug called clopidogrel (Plavix) with aspirin can fight this problem. But this combination, often called dual antiplatelet therapy, can be hard on the stomach, interacts with some drugs, and must be taken without interruption for a specified period.

What does Plavix do?

Plavix inactivates a receptor on the surface of platelets. These small cell fragments circulate in the bloodstream. When activated, they stick together and trigger clot formation. Plavix makes it difficult for platelets to stick together.

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