Why must I take my anti-clotting medications after having a drug-eluting stent implanted?
Taking the anti-clotting (antiplatelet) medications (aspirin and Plavix®, Ticlid®, or Pletal®) that your doctor prescribes is critical to helping prevent blood clots inside a stent. Medications such as clopidogrel (Plavix) or ticlopidine (Ticlid) may be prescribed for one month after receiving a bare metal stent -- and for 12 months or longer after receiving a drug-eluting stent. Cilostazol (Pletal) may also be used in some patients as an antiplatelet agent. Aspirin may be prescribed for life.
You should never stop taking the anti-clotting medications you've been prescribed without first contacting your interventional cardiologist. No matter who may ask you to stop the drugs -- whether another doctor, dentist, or health professional -- do not do so unless your interventional cardiologist says it is OK. Stopping these drugs could place you at risk of blood clots that could result in a heart attack and even death.
In very few cases, blood clots may form after receiving a stent. Recent studies have suggested that blood clots can form even a year after a drug-eluting stent has been implanted (referred to as "late stent thrombosis"). Drug-eluting stents are clinically proven to be superior to bare metal stents at preventing the growth of scar tissue inside a stent. Drug-eluting stents gradually release medication to prevent the build-up of scar tissue and prevent the artery from re-narrowing or becoming blocked again.
Researchers continue to study the problem of clotting to determine its causes. Others are developing new "bio-absorbable" stents, which, like stitches, are absorbed by the body over time and that may reduce or eliminate the risk of clotting.