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Cardiac Screening Test To Determine Who Should Take Aspirin To Prevent Heart Attack

Update Date: May 10, 2014 03:56 PM EDT
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Researchers have reportedly devised a simple test that would measure plaque in the arteries of the heart helping doctors better determine who will and will not benefit from use of aspirin therapy to prevent heart disease. 

For the last 30 years, aspirin has been known to prevent heart attacks and strokes but who exactly should take the drug daily was unclear. The new study might help determine whether or not someone is a good candidate for aspirin.

"Many heart attacks and strokes occur in individuals who do not appear to be at high risk," said lead author, Michael D Miedema, MD, MPH, in the press release. "Individuals with known CVD [cardiovascular disease] should take a daily aspirin, but the best approach for individuals without known CVD is unclear. If we only treat high-risk individuals with aspirin, we are going to miss a substantial portion of patients who eventually suffer heart attacks. However, liberally prescribing aspirin increases the bleeding risk for a significant number of people who were never going to have a heart attack in the first place. With this study, we wanted to see if there is potentially a better way to determine who to treat with aspirin beyond simply using traditional risk factors."

Aspirin helps prevent heart attacks and strokes by preventing blood clots from forming in arteries lined with unhealthy plaque buildup. However, this same benefit puts patients taking aspirin at risk for dangerous bleeding, when blood clots don't form where they should, the press release read. 

"We estimate that individuals with significant plaque buildup in the arteries of the heart are much more likely to prevent a heart attack with aspirin use than to suffer a significant bleed" explained Miedema. "On the opposite end of the spectrum, if you don't have any calcified plaque, our estimations indicate that use of aspirin would result in more harm than good, even if you have risk factors for heart disease such as high cholesterol or a family history of the disease."

The study results are published in the Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

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