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Heart group: Take aspirin at first signs of attack

Aspirin tablets October 20, 1997
Web posted at: 8:39 p.m. EDT (0039 GMT)

(CNN) -- Just one aspirin could save your life.

That is the message of the American Heart Association. In the latest issue of the journal Circulation, the AHA says that as many as 10,000 American lives could be saved every year if everyone followed its recommendation to take a single 325-milligram aspirin tablet at the first signs of a severe heart attack.

The heart association first made that recommendation in 1993. Four years later, a follow-up report shows that only 20 to 40 percent of heart attack victims are taking the seemingly simple step of taking one aspirin at the onset of symptoms.

CNN's Al Hinman shows us how aspirin could save our lives
icon 1 min., 50 sec. VXtreme streaming video

"Despite our recommendation, aspirin use remains underutilized and people are dying prematurely," said one of the authors of the report, Dr. Charles Hennekens, who is chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School.

Doctors already routinely prescribe an aspirin a day for those who have had a heart attack to help prevent another one.

But Hennekens emphasizes the importance of taking aspirin at the onset of an attack.

"If you were having a heart attack, the single best treatment you could take for that heart attack is aspirin," he said.

Paramedics attend to a heart attack victim

People who take aspirin within 24 hours of onset of the symptoms of a heart attack reduce their risk of another heart attack, Hennekens said. They also reduce risk of stroke and have a 23 percent lower death rate, he said.

Heart attacks occur when a blood clot blocks a vessel. Doctors believe aspirin, which prevents blood platelets from sticking together, can keep a blood clot from growing.

However, an aspirin a day may not be the right prescription for everyone. Experts say more study is needed before they can recommend the regular use of aspirin to prevent heart attack or stroke in healthy people because aspirin can have side effects.

But Azam Anwar, a cardiologist at Baylor University Medical Center in Dallas, agrees that an immediate aspirin at the onset of an attack is "absolutely fine, sound advice," with one catch: "They should take the aspirin after they call 911."

Medical Correspondent Al Hinman contributed to this report.

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