Health Beat

Health Beat: An aspirin a day: Maybe yes, maybe no

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Heart disease is the number-one killer of Americans. Nearly half of all adults have risk factors.

For years, aspirin has been prescribed as prevention for those with a history of heart disease. It prevents blood from clotting, but now, a new study casts some doubt on years of conventional wisdom.

Dr. Anthony Bavry, an interventional cardiologist, and his colleagues at the University of Florida in Gainesville, examined health histories from 33,000 patients with hardening of the arteries.

In patients who had suffered a heart attack or stroke, they found aspirin was helpful, but in patients with hardening of the arteries but no prior heart attacks, the aspirin had no benefits.

"In those patients, it's always been assumed that aspirin was beneficial, and it's widely recommended, as well, from our practice guidelines," Bavry said.

Bavry said patients should still take aspirin if they suspect they are having a heart attack or stroke, but he also said patients with hardened arteries and no heart attack history should talk to their doctors about aspirin's benefits and risks.

"There is risk. Aspirin is associated with bleeding, oftentimes in the form of gastrointestinal bleeding," Bavry explained.

So, for some cardiac patients, the best prevention may still be the hardest; not a little white pill, but a change in diet and exercise.

Researchers found one group did get benefit from taking aspirin -- those patients who had a coronary bypass, or a stent, but no history of stroke or heart attack. Bavry said those patients should stay on aspirin therapy.

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