CHICAGO — Regular aspirin use, already proved to prevent repeat heart attacks, can markedly reduce heart disease-related deaths across the board, researchers reported this week.
"Our findings, in conjunction with those of other researchers before us, demonstrate that aspirin is really a miracle drug," remarked Michael Lauer, a research director at the Cleveland Clinic where the study was done.
He also said the study proved assumptions that aspirin counteracts the consequences of poor physical fitness by interfering with excessive blood clotting. Those most likely to benefit from its use, he said, are people in poor shape, those with pre-existing heart disease and the elderly.
The study, published in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association, involved 6,174 patients who underwent a stress test between 1990 and 1998. Of them 2,310 or 37 percent were taking aspirin already, either daily or every other day in amounts that were not spelled out in the study.
Patients were excluded from the study if they had significant disease of the heart valves or a documented reason for not using aspirin, such as ulcers or kidney failure.
During three years of follow-up, 276 patients or 4.5 percent died. Aspirin use was found to be associated with a 33 percent reduction in the risk of death, the study said.
"Our findings provide additional support for recommending the routine use of aspirin in patients with, or at risk for, cardiovascular disease — not only for preventing morbid events but also for reducing all-cause mortality," the study said.
Aspirin was discovered a century ago and has been used mainly as a pain killer. In the past 20 years, the study said, its anti-blood clotting effects and its value in holding down inflammation in blood vessels have come to light.
It said regular aspirin use can prevent heart attacks, especially in men over the age of 50 who have other problems such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol, and can also reduce the risk of a repeat heart attack with in the first 30 days after a heart attack.
"Now," Lauer said, "we also believe that aspirin can save lives in the long run among many diverse patient groups. "Of course aspirin like any other drug does have side effects," and people should consult a doctor first.
The usual dose recommended for heart attack victims using aspirin to prevent a repeat attack is from one baby aspirin to one adult aspirin per day.
The report said its co-authors received support for the study from the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute but none of the investigators owns stock in or receives compensation from the drug industry.