Aspirin and Antiplatelet Medications

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Aspirin for the Prevention and Treatment of Heart Attacks and Strokes (Coronary and Cerebral Vascular Disease)

Additional Heart Attack Prevention Series Information (related articles)

What is aspirin?

Aspirin belongs to a class of medications called nonsteroidal antiinflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). Aspirin and other NSAIDs, for example, ibuprofen (for example, Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (for example, Aleve), are widely used to treat fever, pain, and inflammatory conditions such as arthritis, tendonitis, and bursitis. Aspirin is known chemically as acetyl salicylic acid and often abbreviated as ASA.

In addition to its effects on pain, fever, and inflammation, aspirin also has an important inhibitory effect on platelets in the blood. This antiplatelet effect is used to prevent blood clot formation inside arteries, particularly in individuals who have atherosclerosis (narrowing of the blood vessels) of their arteries, or are otherwise prone to develop blood clots in their arteries.

What are antiplatelet agents?

Antiplatelet agents are medications that block the formation of blood clots by preventing the clumping of platelets. There are three types of antiplatelet agents:

  1. aspirin,

  2. thienopyridines, and

  3. glycoprotein IIb/IIIa inhibitors.

These agents differ in the way they work, their potency (how strongly they prevent clumping), how rapidly they work, and their cost.

What are platelets?

Platelets are particles (actually, remnants of cells) circulating in the blood that are needed in order for blood clots to form. Platelets initiate the formation of blood clots by sticking together (clumping or aggregating), a process called platelet aggregation. Clumps of platelets then are further bound together by a protein (fibrin) formed by clotting factors present in the blood. The clumps of platelets and fibrin make up the blood clot.




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