It's a daily routine for an estimated 40 million Americans. They take a daily low-dose aspirin, believing it will help prevent a heart attack or stroke. But this week, the Food and Drug Administration said that's not the case for most people.
"The reason why the FDA came out on this is because the data behind that is very controversial," said Dr. Prospero Gogo, a cardiologist at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.
Doctors say there is a clear benefit for those who have had a heart attack or a stent or bypass procedure. Aspirin inhibits one of the enzymes that causes blood clotting and can help prevent a recurrence. But for those who have never had a heart attack, they say a daily dose of aspirin may cause more harm than good.
"On the flip side, there's a price to pay by being on aspirin. You're more likely to develop some gastrointestinal problems including gastrointestinal bleeding, which may be almost as serious as some of the smaller heart attacks that we deal with," Gogo explained. "So in balance, there is no overall benefit to being on aspirin in the overall population."
That may be a tough pill to swallow for the millions who have long believed that an aspirin a day will keep a heart attack away. So until further studies can prove otherwise, the FDA says most people should focus on lowering their blood pressure and cholesterol, not a daily a dose of aspirin.
The FDA's announcement this week was prompted by its recent decision to block the pharmaceutical company, Bayer, from labeling and marketing its product as a heart attack prevention drug for those who don't have heart problems.
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