1 in 4 MI survivors confused about the role of aspirin in secondary prevention

Twenty-six percent of heart attack survivors are confused about the role aspirin plays in secondary MI prevention, according to a recent survey from Bayer—a phenomenon that can be attributed in large part to an onslaught of conflicting headlines in the news this summer.

A study published in JAMA Neurology in mid-May got the ball rolling, making mainstream news with its conclusion that the risk of low-dose daily aspirin outweighed the drug’s benefit in the general population. The meta-analysis linked the blood thinner to a 37% increased risk of intracranial bleeding in eight separate trials, and in four, taking aspirin was correlated with a 53% higher risk of subdural or extradural hemorrhage.

The findings were somewhat consistent with a new hypertension guideline released by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology earlier this year. The guideline downgraded aspirin as a tool for primary CVD prevention, citing three strong trials as examples that the medication’s bleeding risk eclipsed any future benefits it might have in people without established heart disease. But in September another aspirin study made headlines, this time suggesting a daily dose of the drug could result in a net benefit for “some” people without CVD.

Though all those recent trials dealt with aspirin as a form of primary prevention, the researchers at Bayer said the message was confusing for patients who’d already suffered a heart attack and were prescribed aspirin for secondary MI prevention.

“Many people are confused by the recent news around who should take aspirin,” Rose Coppolecchia, U.S. Director, Medical Affairs Cardiology, Consumer Health at Bayer, said in a statement. “For heart attack survivors, confusion is especially concerning since taking aspirin regularly, as directed by a doctor to help prevent another heart attack (or ischemic stroke), can be a life-saving preventative treatment.”

Bayer, with support from Mended Heart and WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, surveyed 500 people in the U.S. between July 25 and July 30 of this year. All people surveyed had previously experienced an MI.

The survey revealed that more than a quarter of patients—26%—who’d seen recent news about aspirin believed that, based on the news story they read, they didn’t need to take aspirin anymore. That’s a dangerous assumption considering the fact that one in three people who have had an MI will experience another, and quitting aspirin increases survivors’ risk of another heart attack by 63%.

Women in the survey reported more often that they were receiving regular health checkups (80% compared to 71% of men), but they were far less likely to consistently discuss aspirin use with their doctors (24% compared to 40% of men). Men were also more likely than women to say they completely understood the role of aspirin in secondary heart attack prevention (79% compared to 67% of women).

“It’s important that women who have experienced a heart attack understand that aspirin can play a role in their care regimen,” Celina Gorer, CEO of WomenHeart, said in the statement. “While we know that men and women may experience heart attacks differently, there is robust sex-specific research that shows the benefits of aspirin therapy for women in secondary prevention. This survey underscores the need for women with heart disease to maintain a dialogue with their healthcare provider about the best course of treatment for them.”