It's commonly thought that a daily dose of aspirin can help prevent heart attacks and stroke, but a new study finds that the benefit doesn't extend to patients who have plaque buildup in their arteries but have not yet had a heart attack or stroke.
University of Florida researchers found that while aspirin is marginally helpful for those who have already had a heart attack or stroke, it has no apparent benefit for those who have atherosclerosis — narrowed, hardened arteries — but have not had a coronary incident or stroke.
“Aspirin therapy is widely used and embraced by cardiologists and general practitioners around the world. This takes a bit of the luster off the use of aspirin,” said Anthony Bavry, M.D., an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine’s department of medicine and a cardiologist at the Malcom Randall Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Gainesville.
Useful in emergencies
Bavry said the findings do not undercut aspirin’s vital role in more immediate situations; if a heart attack or stroke is underway or suspected, patients should still take aspirin as a treatment measure.
“The benefit of aspirin is still maintained in acute events like a heart attack or a stroke,” he said.
The findings come from a study of the health histories of over 33,000 patients with atherosclerosis. For those atherosclerosis patients who had not experienced a heart attack or stroke, aspirin appeared to have no effect. The risk of cardiovascular death, heart attack, and stroke was 10.7 percent among aspirin users and 10.5 percent for non-users.
Among more than 21,000 patients who had a previous heart attack or stroke, researchers found that the risk of subsequent cardiovascular death, heart attack or stroke was marginally lower among aspirin users.
Because the findings are observational, further study that includes clinical trials are needed before definitively declaring that aspirin has little or no effect on certain atherosclerosis patients, Bavry said.
The findings were published in the journal Clinical Cardiology.
Editor's note: This story summarizes a recent healthcare study. Many such studies are conducted each year and some may reach different conclusions. A single study does not form the basis for changing the course of treatment. You should not make any decisions solely on the basis of this or any other news story, advertisement, or social media posting. Only your physician can advise you.