Aspirin Cuts Risk of First Heart Attack

By Edwards, Diane D. | Science News, January 30, 1988 | Go to article overview

Aspirin Cuts Risk of First Heart Attack


Edwards, Diane D., Science News


Aspirin Cuts Risk of First Heart Attack

An aspirin every other day could help keep the doctor away by cutting in half the risk of that first heart attack, scientists said this week. But along with the good news came cautionary statements regarding possible side effects and warnings about indiscriminate use.

On the basis of results from the Physicians' Health Study, involving more than 22,000 U.S. physicians 40 to 84 years of age, a research group at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston concluded that using aspirin reduced the risk of heart attacks by 47 percent among these healthy men. Previous studies had shown that aspirin can reduce the likelihood of a second heart attack through its ability to thin the blood (SN: 10/19/85, p.244). But this is the first major examination of the drug's preventive effects in healthy individuals.

Begun in 1982 and scheduled to continue until 1990, the aspirin trial was halted last month by recommendation of an external review board in order to get the encouraging results published. Scientists involved in the study report in the Jan. 28 NEW ENGLAND JOURNAL OF MEDICINE that the unusual termination of the study was based on data showing aspirin's "statistically extreme beneficial effect [in preventing] nonfatal and fatal [heart attacks]."

Half of the subjects took 325 milligrams of buffered aspirin every other day, while the remainder received a placebo. There were 104 heart attacks among the aspirin-treated subjects and 189 among those receiving placebos. Differences in the number of strokes were not statistically significant, say the authors.

Commenting on the preliminary report in an accompanying editorial, journal Editor Arnold S. Relman said he agrees that the "highly promising" results are significant in the fight against heart disease, particularly if supported by a complete analysis of the data. But both Relman and the Dallas-based American Heart Association (AHA) also point out that the study subjects are not a cross-section of the general population. …

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