Alice Park, Time, December 11, 2019
It’s fairly established medical science that people who have had heart attacks can take regular low doses of aspirin to significantly lower their risk of having another heart attack, or other heart problems including stroke. But it is still an open question whether or not people who haven’t had a heart event, but are at higher risk of one (because, for example) they have diabetes, high blood pressure, or elevated cholesterol levels), can also benefit from the over-the-counter painkiller and anti-inflammatory drug.
A new study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, adds to that debate by addressing a gap in the research on the subject: whether race or ethnicity makes a difference in how aspirin affects their risk of heart disease.
In the recent study, Dr. Rodrigo Fernandez-Jiminez, a researcher at the Spanish National Center for Cardiovascular Research, and his team analyzed data from the Southern Community Cohort Study, which included more than 62,000 people from 12 states in the southeastern U.S. The participants answered questions about their lifestyle behaviors, including exercise and diet, and the researchers collected information on the subjects’ medical profile, including their medication use and heart disease risk factors. What set the cohort apart was the fact that most of the participants came from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, making it a relatively homogeneous population when it came to access to health care and insurance. About two-thirds of the volunteers identified as African-American or non-Hispanic black.
That allowed Fernandez-Jiminez and his team to explore race’s potential role in aspirin’s ability to prevent first heart events, something previous research hasn’t adequately addressed. “Most trials that have happened so far do not include different racial and ethnic groups,” he says. “And African-Americans are totally under-represented in these studies, so the guidelines have no conclusions about the potential differential effect aspirin could have on different racial groups. We didn’t have any hypotheses going into the study because this was almost the first data analyzing this issue.”
After a median follow up of 11 years, the scientists learned that for people reporting taking low-dose aspirin, the risk of dying from a heart event increased by 18% among those identifying as black, while in participants identifying as non-Hispanic white, that risk declined by 14%.