CHICAGO — People who take aspirin regularly to reduce their short-term heart attack risk may also be substantially extending their lives, new research suggests.
The study of 6,174 adults with suspected heart disease found that regular aspirin users faced a 33 percent lower risk of dying during a follow-up period averaging three years than patients who didn’t take aspirin.
The findings extend the known benefits for heart patients in taking aspirin at least every other day, which previous studies have shown can reduce the risk of heart attack and the short-term risk of death in heart attack sufferers, said the authors, led by Dr. Patricia Gum of The Cleveland Clinic.
"Up until now it really had not been very well established" that aspirin had long-term survival benefits for heart patients, said co-author Dr. Michael Lauer, clinical research director in the clinic’s cardiovascular medicine department.
The study appeared in Wednesday’s Journal of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Lynn Smaha, a cardiologist at Guthrie Clinic in Sayre, Pa., said patients often ask him if they should regularly take aspirin, which improves blood flow through the arteries by making it less sticky and less likely to clot.
For those who’ve had previous heart attacks, "it’s pretty clear that that’s an appropriate recommendation," said Smaha, past president of the American Heart Association.
The new study "lends credence to the possibility that long-term aspirin therapy may be of significant benefit" even for patients with no previous heart attacks, Smaha said.
Lauer stressed that patients should consult with their doctors about whether to start taking aspirin on a regular basis.
Study participants were male and female patients who underwent ultrasounds called echocardiograms and stress tests to evaluate suspected heart problems. Included were 2,310 people who were taking about one aspirin daily or every other day at test time and 3,864 nonusers.
There were 276 deaths during about three years of follow-up. While there were about equal numbers of deaths in both groups, the aspirin users were older when they were tested — aged 62 on average compared with 56 for the nonusers and had more diagnosed heart disease. Adjusting for those factors, the authors found aspirin users were 33 percent less likely to die than nonusers.
The greatest benefits were seen in patients who were physically unfit, over age 50 or who had known heart disease. Lauer said most of the deaths likely were heart-related, though exact causes weren’t available.
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