A Food and Drug Administration advisory committee Friday backed the use of an aspirin tablet every other day for the prevention of first heart attacks.
But panel members asked the FDA to advise physicians that aspirin be given for this use only to their patients known to be at risk of a heart attack. They said this group would primarily consist of males over 50 with risk factors such as high blood pressure, smoking and high cholesterol levels.A massive study in which aspirin was given to over 22,000 doctors, concluded in January 1988 that 325 milligrams of aspirin every other day would reduce the risk of first heart attacks by over 40 percent.
Following the report, however, the FDA asked aspirin makers to voluntarily refrain from publicizing the finding until the study could be reviewed by the agency and its Cardiovascular Drugs Advisory Committee.
Agency officials were concerned, for example, by the fact that most of the doctors were male and healthy. The study said little about aspirin's effects on other groups such as women and younger people.
Panel members said the risks of taking aspirin may include a higher probability of strokes caused by bleeding in the brain. The committee noted that aspirin was only one way to reduce heart attack risk.
Members said stopping smoking would have a greater impact, and said lowering blood pressure or cholesterol levels would have a significant though lesser effect.