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Too Few Patients With Heart Disease Take Aspirin

WebMD Health News

March 13, 2000 (Minneapolis) -- Far too few patients with heart disease are taking aspirin, even though the drug can help prevent further heart attacks and strokes, a new study says.

"Patients who have heart disease, and who are not on aspirin, need to ask physicians if they should be taking it," says Randall S. Stafford, MD, PhD. "Patients who are told to take aspirin should do it." Stafford is an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and a senior scientist at the Institute for Health Policy at Partner/Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. His study was published in the journal Circulation.

Aspirin is recommended for all patients who have had heart attacks, unless there is some reason they can't take it, such as an allergy. Studies have consistently found it to reduce these patients' risk of having another heart attack or stroke.

Stafford reviewed the records of more than 10,000 doctor visits of heart disease patients from 1980 to 1996. Aspirin use among these patients, he writes, increased from 5% to about 26% during that time. But experts say this rate is still disturbingly low.

"This is the first comprehensive study I've seen that looks at the consumption of aspirin in the target population, and the findings are distressing," says Richard A. Levinson, MD, DPA, who reviewed the article for WebMD. "The numbers should be closer to 100%."

"The public needs to know that an exhaustive number of studies have shown the role of aspirin in secondary prevention," says Levinson, who is associate executive director of the American Public Health Association. "It's a safe and effective way to prevent additional [heart attack] or stroke."

Female heart patients and those over 80 were less likely to be taking aspirin, according to the study. It found that 29% of men with coronary artery disease took the drug, compared to 21% of women. Among patients aged 65 to 79, about 26% were aspirin users, compared to 17% of those 80 and up. Smokers, people with elevated cholesterol, and those who had private insurance were also more likely to use aspirin.

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