Aspirin's Heart Benefits Bottled Up

woman picking out aspirin
A new study finds aspirin is widely underused by people with heart disease, despite its ability to prevent heart attacks.

Although Americans alone swallow 29 billion tablets every year, the study finds aspirin's ability to prevent heart attacks in people with heart disease is being overlooked.

Dr. Randall Stafford, who has analyzed 16 years of data on the treatment of patients with heart disease, tells CBS News Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Kaledin, "There are a large number of patients with heart disease who are at increased risk of problems because they are not taking aspirin."

Stafford and his colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital found that:

  • Only 26 percent took aspirin
  • Men are more likely to take it than women
  • Patients over 80 are less likely to be prescribed aspirin as a preventative medicine

"If we could move it from 26 percent closer to 80 or 90 percent we would have a significant reduction of people in our emergency rooms and hospitals, dying of heart attacks," thinks Dr. Lynn Saha, president of the American Heart Association.

One of the leading causes of heart attack is the formation of blood clots in coronary arteries. Since aspirin prevents blood from clotting, it has become a well-known tool in the heart disease prevention arsenal. As little as one half of one aspirin a day can do the trick.

Aspirin is not for everyone. It has been known to cause stomach bleeding, increased risk of stroke, and kidney damage. But with heart disease holding steady as the number one killer of American men and women, the concern is that the potential of this simple preventive medicine is being kept bottled up.