For decades, millions of people have taken a daily aspirin to reduce heart attacks and strokes by reducing blood clots. But a study from the University of Florida Health found that aspirin may be of little or no benefit for patients who already have plaque buildup in their arteries.
Researchers studied the health histories of more than 33,000 people 45 years or older with coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease or peripheral vascular disease.
They found no benefit for those with atherosclerosis — hardening of the arteries — and found that although there was a small benefit for those who had suffered a previous heart attack or stroke, aspirin had no advantage among atherosclerosis patients who hadn't had a heart attack or stroke.
In fact, overall, the risk of cardiovascular death, heart attack and stroke was 10.7 percent among aspirin users and 10.5 percent for non-users.
Patients who enrolled in the nationwide study were at least 45 years old with coronary artery disease, cerebrovascular disease or peripheral vascular disease. Their medical data were collected between late 2003 and mid-2009.
One group — those people who had a coronary bypass or stent but no history of stroke, heart attack or arterial blood-flow condition — did get some benefit from aspirin. Those patients should clearly stay on an aspirin regimen, 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.
"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 Bavry.
But he 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.
"The benefit of aspirin is still maintained in acute events like a heart attack or a stroke," he said.
The findings were published in the journal Clinical Cardiology.
Many studies have shown health benefits for aspirin that are wide-ranging. A recent study found that women who have high levels of inflammation in their bodies and have previously endured miscarriages, may be able to prevent one in the future by taking a low-dose aspirin daily.
A recent Harvard study found that low-dose aspirin may also lower the risk of dying from several cancers, including colon, breast, and prostate.
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