Plavix Side Effects

Blood thinners are drugs prescribed for individuals who are at risk for suffering heart attacks or strokes. They reduce the blood’s clotting properties, thereby decreasing the likelihood of small blood clot formation that is often implicated in heart attacks and strokes.

Plavix, the trade name for the medication clopidogrel, is one of the more popular blood thinners. In 2008, Plavix was the sixth most frequently-prescribed drug in the United States, with domestic sales that topped $3.8 billion.

Plavix’s manufacturers and distributors, Bristol-Myers Squibb and Sanofi-Aventis, have touted the medication as a more effective blood thinner than aspirin with far fewer side effects.

Recent studies, however, indicate that Plavix has no significant advantages over aspirin as a blood thinner, and in many users is linked to a higher incidence of gastrointestinal bleeding. In many users, Plavix use actually increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

Additionally, many patients cannot metabolize Plavix effectively. There is no way of knowing whether Plavix can be metabolized without expensive genetic testing. Popular heartburn medications such as Prilosec also interfere with a patient’s ability to metabolize this medication.

Evidence exists that Plavix manufacturers were aware of these issues and failed to inform consumers about them. Drug manufacturers also aggressively lobbied health care providers to prescribe Plavix for uses for which the Federal Food and Drug Administration had not approved the medication.

How Does Plavix Work?

Plavix works by inhibiting the formation of platelets, the specialized cells that bind to the site of a damaged blood vessel and form blood clots. There is usually a delay of up to two hours between the time the medication is administered and the time the drug’s antiplatelet action takes effect. Plavix was initially touted as a safer and more effective blood thinner than the far less expensive over-the-counter drug aspirin.

When platelets are inhibited, however, the risk of internal hemorrhaging is increased. A February 2005 study published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicated that Plavix is 12 times more likely to cause gastric bleeding than aspirin. Furthermore, taking Plavix can impair the healing of gastric ulcers and increase the risk of recurrent bleeding at the site.

Medical Conditions Linked to Plavix

Gastric hemorrhage is one of several potentially fatal complications that Plavix’s manufacturers failed to warn consumers about.

A single Plavix pill costs approximately 100 times what a single aspirin pill costs. Yet, recent studies show that Plavix is no more effective than aspirin in preventing heart attacks and strokes. Indeed, so-called “off label” use of Plavix may actually increase the risk of heart attack and stroke in patients with no prior history of these complications.

One of the most common off-label uses of Plavix is its use as a medication to prevent blood clots following angioplasty and related procedures. In some instances, the patients undergoing these procedures had no confirmed prior history of heart attacks or strokes.

The medication’s manufacturers also lobbied aggressively for its use as a preventive medication among patients who were obese, had diabetes or smoke, all of which are increased-risk factors of strokes and heart attacks.

Plavix is also implicated in the development of thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), a platelet disease with a mortality rate between 10 and 20 percent. Taking Plavix causes the formation of antibodies that inhibit the activity of critically important enzymes. The inhibition of these enzymes leads to clinical TTP presentation.