A stroke happens when the blood is unable to deliver oxygen to the brain. Strokes can happen for different reasons. An ischemic stroke happens when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel, cutting off the oxygen supply. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when a blood vessel bursts, causing bleeding in the brain. A smaller stroke, a transient ischemic attack (TIA), happens when a temporary blood clot blocks a blood vessel.
The drugs used to treat stroke typically work in three different ways. They aim to break up existing blood clots, thin the blood to prevent clots from starting or worsening, or to lessen bleeding in a hemorrhagic stroke. The treatment provided depends on the kind of stroke and its cause.
These drugs might be used in the emergency room in an attempt to immediately break up an existing clot. 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. Some of these drugs will be prescribed to a stroke victim on an ongoing basis to lower their blood pressure and cholesterol.
Anticoagulants are drugs that thin the blood. These are used for treating ischemic strokes and TIAs.. Aspirin is one anticoagulant used in continued care for ischemic stroke and other cardiovascular problems like heart disease and preventing another stroke. Aspirin prevents platelets from clotting the blood normally.
Warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven, Marfarin) is a blood thinner used to prevent blood clots from forming or to prevent existing clots from growing larger. It’s 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 in the past.
People shouldn’t take anticoagulants for a hemorrhagic stroke, which increases bleeding in the brain. Consult your doctor before taking medication following a stroke or any other major medical event.
Clopidogrel (Plavix) is an antiplatelet drug that helps to prevent blood clots. It’s sometimes prescribed to people who have had ischemic strokes, heart attacks, and other heart conditions. Plavix should be taken on a regular basis. It’s important to continue using it even if you are feeling healthy.
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’s not appropriate for every stroke case.
Statins are commonly prescribed drugs for people with high cholesterol, which may lead to transient ischemic attacks, heart attacks, and other problems. This class of drugs blocks an enzyme in the body needed to produce cholesterol that may 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)
Your doctor may also prescribe medications to help lower your blood pressure. Blood pressure can play a major role in hemorrhagic stroke, so managing this can help prevent or reduce your risk. There are numerous types of these available, including beta-blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, and calcium channel blockers.