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What is Thromboxane?

By T. Broderick
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Thromboxane is a lipid essential to the body's production of clots. To stop bleeding, the lipid simultaneously restricts arteries and veins while clumping platelets. Platelets produce thromboxane through conversion of certain prostaglandins. In individuals with high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, the lipid has a negative effect by restricting arteries and causing arterial plaque buildup. Aspirin inhibits the production of thromboxane, reducing one's chances of suffering a first or second heart attack.

The primary function of thromboxane is to stop bleeding. When the body experiences a cut, the lipid assists platelets in clumping so that the platelets can eventually form a clot. This process begins when the lipid narrows the arteries leading to the cut site. This action makes the platelets' job easier by reducing blood pressure and limiting overall blood loss.

The body's platelets produce thromboxane from arachidonic acid. This process is significant as prostacyclin, a platelet produced lipid that inhibits clot formation, is also created from arachidonic acid. These two lipid compounds normally act in homeostasis within the human body, the balance only changing during and immediately after a bleeding event. In certain instances, though, this balance becomes upset.

When an individual experiences a rise in cholesterol, thromboxane becomes a bane rather than a benefit. When cholesterol levels become unhealthy, the lipid acts by depositing cholesterol on arterial walls. This arterial plaque buildup narrows and hardens arteries, increasing the chances of both heart disease and heart attack. Though nearly anyone can become afflicted with vasoconstriction, a rare medical condition speeds up the process in an unlikely group: young women with no previous coronary disorder.

Prinzmetal's angina is a form of angina with two unique characteristics. Unlike most forms of angina, pain always presents while the patient is at rest. Also, younger women with normal cholesterol are the most affected. Though thromboxane levels are also normal, a genetic abnormality creates arterial tissue that is more receptive to plaque buildup. Though treatable with nitrate medication, Prinzmetal's angina is a lifelong condition that requires a patient to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Individuals at risk for heart attack can lower their levels of thromboxane by taking a daily dose of aspirin. The medication inhibits platelets' ability to produce the lipid. Taking 40 mg of aspirin a day is the standard daily dose. Individuals wishing to further lower their risk for heart attack should consult their primary care physician before making any other significant lifestyle changes.

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Discussion Comments

By SZapper — On Feb 17, 2012

I've never heard of Prinzmetal's angina. I think it's crazy that it actually makes the system more susceptible to thromboxanes in otherwise healthy young women. Not that I think unhealthy people deserve to get sick, but I feel like it's especially unfair when people who make an effort to stay healthy get sick for reasons outside of their control.

It's interesting that Prinzmetal's angina is treating with a nitrate medication instead of Aspirin. But I suppose as far as Prinzmental's angina is concerned, increased thromboxane isn't the problem. The body's reaction to it is!

By sunnySkys — On Feb 17, 2012

@KaBoom - My grandma takes a daily dose of Aspirin for her heart. From what I hear, increased risk of bleeding isn't actually on of the side effects from just taking Aspirin. Interestingly enough, the only time it's a risk is if you also take a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory along with it.

Anyway, I find it fascinating that one substance can be both good and bad for the body. Obviously we need our blood to clot if we cut ourselves. But what we don't want is excess clotting in our veins and hardening of the arteries. It's interesting that thromboxane works the way it's supposed to until an individual has high blood pressure or high cholesterol levels.

By KaBoom — On Feb 16, 2012

I always hear that you're supposed to take an Aspirin supplement if you have a heart attack or other kinds of heart trouble. However, I never knew why Aspirin could help prevent a heart attack. It's interesting to know that when it comes to Aspirin, thromboxane inhibition is the reason Aspirin works to prevent a heart attack.

I imagine people who take a daily Aspirin supplement should probably be careful if they get cut or injured. Since thromboxane helps with clotting, I imagine a cut wouldn't clot as fast if you're taking Aspirin.

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