The drugs used to treat stroke typically work to either break up existing blood clots, thin the blood to prevent clots from starting or worsening, or otherwise affect the body so that blood clots are less likely to form or worsen. These drugs might be used in the emergency room in an attempt to immediately break up an existing clot, but they can also be used afterwards for continued care and to help solve health problems that increase a person’s risk for a second stroke. For example, some of these drugs will be prescribed to a stroke victim on an ongoing basis to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol.
Aspirin therapy is a common treatment not only to help thin your blood during a stroke, but also for continued care for ischemic stroke and other cardiovascular problems such as heart disease and preventing another stroke. Aspirin thins the blood, which allows it to get through to problem areas blocked by a blood clot. However, people who have a hemorrhagic stroke, which increases bleeding in the brain, should not take it. Consult your doctor before taking aspirin following a stroke or any other major medical event.
Warfarin, sold under the brand name Coumadin, Jantoven, and Marfarin, is a blood thinner used to prevent blood clots from forming or to prevent existing clots from growing larger. It is often prescribed to people with artificial heart valves, irregular heartbeat, or who have suffered a heart attack or stroke.
Warfarin has also been linked to life-threatening bleeding. Make sure to inform your doctor if you have had bleeding problems or similar conditions (such as von Willebrand disease and anemia) in the past.
Clopidogrel, sold under the brand name Plavix, is an antiplatelet drug that helps to prevent blood clots. It is sometimes prescribed to people who have had ischemic strokes, heart attacks, and other heart conditions. Plavix is meant to be taken on a regular basis, so it is important to continue using it even if you are feeling healthy.
Tissue Plasminogen Activator
Tissue plasminogen activator (TPA) is a common emergency treatment for people having an ischemic stroke. It works by immediately breaking up the clot. In an emergency situation, TPA is injected into a vein or directly into an artery. TPA can only be used in certain situations; it is not appropriate for every stroke case that presents to the hospital.
Statins are commonly prescribed drugs for people with high cholesterol, which may lead transient ischemic attacks (often called “mini strokes”), heart attacks, and other problems. This class of drugs blocks an enzyme in the body needed to produce cholesterol that can clog arteries. Statins sold in the United States include:
- atorvastatin (Lipitor, Torvast)
- fluvasatatin (Lescol)
- lovastatin (Altocor, Altoprev, Mevacor)
- pitavastatin (Livalo)
- pravastatin (Pravachol)
- rosuvastatin (Crestor)
- simvastatin (Zocor)
Blood Pressure Medications
Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help lower your blood pressure. There are numerous types of these available, including beta-blockers, ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers, among others. Learn more about medications to lower your blood pressure.