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Aspirin: Low-Dose Gets High Marks for Heart Attack Prevention

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The study's final message is that "the risk of stroke [associated with taking aspirin] is directly linked to blood pressure. As long as blood pressure is well controlled ... then the risk of stroke [from taking aspirin] is quite low and the benefits of the aspirin [on the heart] overtake any risk of stroke." Rosser is a professor and chair of the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto in Ontario.

For the study, which received financial support from aspirin manufacturer Bayer Company, doctors examined almost 5,000 people with at least one risk factor for heart disease -- such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol. The volunteers were told to take 100 mg of aspirin a day and/or 300 mg of vitamin E a day, or neither of these.

After 3½ years, those taking aspirin were less likely to have suffered a heart attack or to have died of heart disease. Vitamin E did not produce such benefits. The study was led by Maria Carla Roncaglioni of the Instituto Di Richerche Farmacologiche in Milan, Italy.

Despite intense scientific interest in vitamin E's effect on the heart, recent studies, including this one, indicate it's not all that beneficial, Michael J. Ryan, MD, tells WebMD.

On the other hand, he says, for the prevention of heart attack, "I think aspirin is important." Ryan, who reviewed the study, is assistant professor of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital and director of the cardiovascular risk identification and treatment center at Main Line Health Heart Center, both in Philadelphia.

In contrast, Rosser says, "My sense with vitamin E is that it's likely that probably over a very long period of time it does have some effect, and 3½ years just isn't anywhere near long enough to show anything."

Both Rosser and Ryan agree that individuals concerned about heart disease should discuss taking aspirin with their physician.

"If you decide to take something for the rest of your life, even if it's plain old aspirin, that's a major decision," Rosser says. "Therefore, most people should talk to somebody that's knowledgeable about it -- and usually that's a physician."

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