Heart disease patients who quit their daily Aspirin are at risk of heart attack, stroke: study

After a heart attack or stroke, doctors often prescribe patients with a daily dose of aspirin. Getty Images

After a heart attack or stroke, doctors often prescribe patients with a daily dose of Aspirin. Now a new study is warning that if heart disease patients abandon their low-dose therapy, they could be at risk of a subsequent heart attack or stroke.

Swedish scientists suggest that if heart attack and stroke survivors ditch their daily low-dose Aspirin, they could be susceptible to a secondary event compared to their peers who stick to the therapy.

“Low-dose Aspirin therapy is a simple and inexpensive treatment. As long as there’s no bleeding or any major surgery scheduled, our research shows the significant public health benefits that can be gained when patients stay on Aspirin therapy,” Dr. Johan Sundstrom, the study’s lead author and Uppsala University professor, said in a statement.

“We hope our research may help physicians, health-care providers and patients make informed decisions on whether or not to stop Aspirin use,” Sundstrom said.

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READ MORE: Here’s how women’s heart attack symptoms differ from men’s

Doctors rely on low-dose Aspirin to help with heart disease management post-heart attack or stroke. The drug helps to stop blood cells from clumping together and clotting.

For their research, the scientists looked at more than 600,000 people over 40 years old who took low-dose Aspirin for heart attack or stroke prevention between 2005 and 2009.

In the three-year follow-up, the researchers learned that:

  • One out of every 74 patients who stopped taking Aspirin had an additional heart disease-related event each year
  • Those who stopped taking Aspirin daily saw a 37 per cent higher rate of cardiovascular events compared to their peers who kept taking the drug daily
  • Those who stopped taking Aspirin daily saw an “elevated risk” of cardiovascular events that spiked shortly after stopping the therapy and didn’t diminish over time

More than 80 per cent adhered to taking a daily Aspirin within the first year. Typically, nearly 10 to 20 per cent of heart attack patients stop taking a daily Aspirin within the first three years after their heart attack.

READ MORE: Male heart attack patients receive faster care than women, Canadian study suggests

Some compliance rates dip to as low as 50 per cent.

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This isn’t the first time research has shed light on the “rebound effect” after heart disease patients stop taking Aspirin. The doctors say it may be because of increased clotting levels after the drug’s blood-thinning effects wane.

The Heart & Stroke Foundation offers similar advice.

“If you’ve had a heart attack, taking a daily, 81 milligram, low-dose Aspirin can prevent a second heart attack. Also people who are at high risk of having a cardiovascular event may benefit. It’s best to talk to your doctor, who will assess your risk and ensure you’re at sufficiently low risk of bleeding before you begin taking Aspirin,” it advises on its website.

READ MORE: Do heart attack survivors change their unhealthy ways? Study suggests they don’t

If you’re having a heart attack, Heart & Stroke advises that you call 911 immediately and chew either two 81-milligram Aspirin or one 325 milligram Aspirin.

“This is the only situation when you should chew Aspirin. If you feel like you’re having a heart attack, you may have a clot in the arteries. You want to dissolve that clot as quickly as possible and Aspirin can help do this,” Heart & Stroke says.

Sundstrom’s full findings were published Tuesday in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation.

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