Aspirin and Heart Attacks
With all of the talk about nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory
drugs (NSAIDs) increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke, it seems
like there is a lot of advertising going on claiming that aspirin can
reduce your risk of heart attack. Are these claims really credible,
or just more pharmaceutical sales hype?
One of the most misleading commercials was from an
aspirin manufacturer that was claiming that their product had been shown
to reduce the risk of a second heart attack by 50%. Sounds really impressive
until you look at how they came to their conclusion. It was revealed
on news program that the company had started with around 100 test subjects.
After being given the aspirin therapy for a length of time, the drug
company chose only 6 participants to base their conclusion on. Out of
the 6 participants, 3 had not had a second heart attack by that time.
Thus the drug company came to the conclusion that their product reduced
the risk of a second heart attack by 50%.
Numerous other companies have been making similar
claims. And aspirin therapy is even being recommended to take during
a heart attack. This is a widely accepted concept, and is even being
recommended by some doctors. Though, this practice has never been proven
safe, or beneficial in any way. In fact, the practice is being questioned
by other doctors because evidence is contrary to this common belief.
Generally NSAIDs contract blood vessels and promote
the formation of blood clots by inhibiting the hormone prostacyclin.
Aspirin inhibits prostacyclin as well, leading to blood vessel constriction.
Unlike other NSAIDs though, aspirin actually helps to prevent blood
clots though by interfering with platelet clumping. Blood clots are
well known for causing heart attacks and thrombic stroke. This is where
the notion that aspirin would help prevent a heart attack, or reduce
risk of death from a heart attack, got started. Aspirin does not dissolve
existing blood clots though. If a person takes an aspirin after a heart
attack from a blood clot (thrombus), the aspirin will not dissolve the
blood clot to restore blood flow. Although, as with all NSAIDs, aspirin
will cause the blood vessels to contract, further reducing blood flow.
This is the last thing that a person having a heart attack or angina
should do. It is a decreased blood flow to the heart that leads to angina,
and an obstruction of blood flow that causes heart attacks in the first
Medical studies dating back to 1971 have consistently
shown that aspirin does not benefit people during heart attacks. This
claim is nothing more than sales propaganda. And some studies had to
be stopped before results could be obtained due to the increased risk
gastric hemorrhage and hemorrhagic stroke.
One aspirin study did appear at first to reduce the
risk of death from heart attack. This study was conducted by two groups
of doctors, one in England, and the other in the United States. The
group of doctors in England took plain aspirin, and concluded no reduced
risk of death from aspirin therapy. The U.S. group of doctors used aspirin
buffered with magnesium. This group found a slight benefit from the
therapy. The benefit was not from the aspirin though. Instead, the benefit
resulted from the magnesium added to the aspirin. Magnesium is a well
known for relaxing blood vessels. By relaxing the blood vessels, magnesium
actually increases blood flow to the heart, opposite of aspirin's effect.
Hemorrhage is the most dangerous side effect of aspirin
therapy. If a bleed starts due to a ruptured blood vessel, the inability
to clot can have devastating consequences. For example, NSAIDs kill
over 16,000 people a year. Nearly all of these deaths are due to internal
bleeding disorders. These bleeding disorders are primarily gastric bleeds
and hemorrhagic strokes. This increased risk of bleeds is not only due
to the blood thinning effects of the aspirin, but also from the blood
vessel weakening effects of the drug, which increases the likelihood
that a blood vessels will rupture.
My grandfather actually lost his eyesight completely
in one eye from taking aspirin. He developed a bleed in the eye from
a ruptured blood vessel, which was likely weakened by the aspirin therapy.
Because the aspirin had also thinned out his blood so much, the bleed
could not clot as it would normally do, and he went blind in that eye.
There is also a problem with the constant claims of
aspirin reducing the risk of a second heart attack or stroke by a certain
percentage, which is often done by these drug companies. Both heart
attacks and strokes are unpredictable. So how can they claim that aspirin
prevented a second heart attack, or stroke, when it is impossible to
tell if the person would have had a second heart attack or stroke if
they had not taken the aspirin? And what if all the people in the study
were to have a second heart attack or stroke the day after the study
is completed? The percentage would still remain the same since the heart
attacks or strokes occurred outside the study timeframe. These are just
a few examples of how drug studies are manipulated to make drugs appear
safe or effective.