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More Confusion Over Benefits of Aspirin Use

November 23, 1998|SALLY SQUIRES | WASHINGTON POST

The American College of Chest Physicians this month urged healthy adults 50 and older with at least one risk factor for heart disease to take an aspirin daily to cut their chance of having a heart attack. Only about a month ago, the Food and Drug Administration explicitly told healthy Americans not to take aspirin daily to prevent heart attacks.

Welcome to the confusion about aspirin and its use to ward off heart attacks.

The chest physicians broke ranks with the FDA after a new review of findings from the Nurses' Health Study, conducted at Harvard University. That study showed a 30% reduction in heart attacks among women 50 and older who took aspirin daily compared with a similar group of women who did not take aspirin.

Under the chest physicians' guidelines, people 50 and older who smoke, have diabetes, high blood pressure, elevated blood cholesterol or a family history of premature heart disease are advised to take between 80 and 325 milligrams of aspirin daily.

In making their recommendations, James Dalen, vice president for Health Sciences at the University of Arizona in Tucson and co-chairman of the ACCP committee that wrote the new guidelines, said the committee was swayed by findings not only from the Nurses' Health Study but also the Physicians' Health Study at Harvard.

That study, Dalen said, showed that while there was no reduction in deaths from heart attacks, participants over 50 who took aspirin daily suffered 33% fewer heart attacks.

"I don't think that the ACCP guidelines contradict what we are saying," said Debra Bowen, deputy director of the FDA's Office of Drug Evaluation V, which oversaw the recent label changes for aspirin.

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