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Aug 08, 2011

Discontinuation of Aspirin and Heart Attack Risk

Discontinuing aspirin use can increase heart attack risk by 2/3 in patients who have had a heart attack or stroke.

Regular low-dose aspirin use is the most common treatment for patients with a history of cardiac events, such as heart attack and stroke. Why? The antiplatelet characteristics of aspirin that relieve pain also help to reduce blood clotting, which can help prevent future adverse cardiac events. Therefore, aspirin use is extremely effective in reducing risk for heart attack and stroke, and is recommended long-term for most high-risk patients.

But how long should patients continue to take low-dose aspirin following a cardiac event? It turns out that patients should adhere to aspirin regimens as long as possible, as discontinuing use can greatly increase risk for heart attack. A recent study published in the British Medical Journal followed nearly 40,000 participants with a history of cardiovascular events for an average of 3.2 years, tracking their health and aspirin use. Data showed that patients discontinuing low-dose aspirin use were nearly two-thirds more likely to have a heart attack than current users.

Based on study findings, it is important that researchers better understand why patients prescribed low-dose aspirin discontinue its use. Most likely, patients discontinue use because they forget to take it, do not think that it is benefiting their health, or because of safety concerns. However, it is important that healthcare providers now reinforce the importance of continuing aspirin use long term. Not only does low-dose aspirin use help prevent cardiac events, discontinuing aspirin use can be even more dangerous, significantly increasing risk for heart attack. And any health concerns associated with aspirin use, such as peptic ulcer disease and bleeding, are outweighed by the cardiovascular benefits achieved through low-dose aspirin regimens. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • How does aspirin help prevent heart attack and stroke?

  • Aspirin helps prevent heart attack and stroke by reducing blood clotting. Although blood clotting is the body’s natural way of healing damaged blood vessels, blood clots can travel to the heart and block major arteries, causing heart attack or stroke. Therefore, those at high risk for heart attack and stroke often take aspirin to help reduce clotting and risk for future cardiac events.
  • What aspirin dose is prescribed for patients with history of heart attack and stroke?

  • Patients with a history of cardiovascular events are typically prescribed 75–300 mg/day of aspirin to help reduce their risk for heart attack and stroke.

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