- Aspirin, the supposedly benign wonder drug taken by many
men who fear heart attacks, may actually harm some of those most at risk,
researchers warn today.
- For more than 50 years, doctors have recommended aspirin
with increasing confidence to reduce the risk of heart attacks by dissolving
dangerous blood clots.
- But the results of a study, published today in the British
Medical Journal, suggest that in men with high blood pressure - among those
most susceptible to heart attacks - aspirin does more harm than good.
- In a seven-year research programme involving over 5,000
British men aged between 45 and 69, it was found that men with high blood
pressure were unlikely to get heart disease protection from aspirin but
risked potentially serious internal bleeding.
- Even men with low blood pressure might suffer more harm
than good from the drug. The British Heart Foundation said the survey
was a powerful warning to those who had no symptoms of heart disease but
took daily doses of aspirin in the belief it would ward off a heart attack
or stroke, rather than taking exercise and cutting out fatty foods.
- The survey showed that aspirin-poppers who had not had
their blood pressure checked by their GP were at particular risk, the BHF
- "I know people who have been self-prescribing aspirin
for years and years in the belief it will stop them having coronary heart
disease. But the best way is to cut out fatty foods," said BHF spokeswoman
- "People think that they can have a sedentary lifestyle,
eat lots of chips, take an aspirin and everything will be all right."
- Overall, the aspirin-takers in the study had 20% fewer
strokes, heart attacks and deaths from heart failure.
- But the research team's leader, Prof Tom Meade, said
this was not good enough to outweigh the risks of bleeding.
- "Although aspirin does reduce the risk of a first
heart at tack the effect is not large," he said. "Even low doses
of aspirin may cause bleeding, which is sometimes serious. However, most
people who have previously had a heart attack should take aspirin as the
benefits for them are much greater."
- Most patients who have had heart attacks are now advised
to take 75 mg of aspirin a day, equivalent to a quarter of a tablet.
- Aspirin was launched as a painkiller by the German firm
Bayer in 1899, although a precursor substance, found in willow leaves and
bark, was known to the Greek physician Hippocrates as far back as 200 BC.
- In 1948, a California doctor noticed the link between
aspirin and reduced heart disease, and started recommending "an aspirin
a day" to patients and colleagues.
- The drug's reputation as a shield against heart disease
grew from there, although it was not until 1982 that the British pharmacologist
John Vane discovered how it actually worked, winning him the Nobel Prize
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