September 10, 2014

The Cardiovascular Drug Lurking in Your Medicine Cabinet

Anticoagulant drugs can cause side effects and dangerous bleeding, so for some people, aspirin is the better treatment.

There's probably a bottle of aspirin in your medicine cabinet. It's common to turn to it for fevers, aches and pains. But aspirin is too often overlooked when it comes to cardiovascular problems.

People who suffer from cardiovascular disease or who are at risk for developing blood clots will usually be put on anticoagulant medications. Many of these medications require constant blood monitoring, dietary restriction and can cause serious complications.

Aspirin offers significant protection if you are at risk for stroke and certain cardiovascular problems, according to a new study; and it is cheaper and has fewer side effects.

Daily aspirin offered a one-third reduction in the risk of several cardiovascular events, including heart attack, stroke, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism and death.

The study, led by groups from Australia and Italy, found that in patients who cannot take anticoagulants long-term, daily aspirin provides a safer alternative for preventing blood clots.

Although aspirin is not as effective as prescription medications, it remains a useful option for patients who are unable to take these drugs due to their cost or the risk of side effects.

Patients who were put on 100 mg of aspirin each day had a one-third reduction in the risk of several cardiovascular events, including heart attack, stroke, deep vein thrombosis (DVT), pulmonary embolism and death.

Deep vein thrombosis, the formation of blood clots in deep veins, usually in the leg, typically occurs during or after sedentary travel or periods of prolonged inactivity. It is more likely in patients who may be overweight, have high blood pressure or smoke cigarettes.

Pulmonary embolisms are blood clots that affect arteries surrounding the lungs. Both conditions signal the possibility of more serious cardiovascular complications down the line, such as a heart attack.

Patients in the study had already suffered a blood clot and would typically be candidates for anticoagulant drug treatment, but anticoagulants come with an increased risk of bleeding in some individuals, in addition to being costly.

“[Aspirin] treatment is an alternative to long-term anticoagulation and will be especially useful for patients who do not want the inconvenience of close medical monitoring or the risk of bleeding,” according to John Simes, lead author of the study.

The results clearly and consistently show that low-dose aspirin reduces the risk of future cardiovascular events. The researchers are optimistic that treatment with aspirin would be ideal in many countries where prolonged anticoagulant treatment is too expensive — savings that could add up to millions of healthcare dollars worldwide.

The study is published in Circulation.

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