Aspirin May Do More
Harm Than Good For
Heart In Some Cases
By James Meek - Science Correspondent,3604,338057,00.html
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 said.
"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 Gaynor Dewsnap.
"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 for Medicine.

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