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The real cost of aspirin
  1. O M P JOLOBE
  1. Department of Adult Medicine (including Department of Medicine for the Elderly)
  2. Tameside General Hospital
  3. Fountain Street
  4. Ashton under Lyne OL6 9RW, UK

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    Editor,—In the context of coronary heart disease the poor perception of the hidden cost of aspirin1 partly stems from under-recognition of alternative therapeutic strategies for achieving the objective of primary or secondary prevention of myocardial infarction during long term use. A prime example is the use of warfarin, which, in patients who already have a strong indication such as atrial fibrillation, for its long term use, can serve as a satisfactory alternative therapeutic strategy. This is because, in its own right, anticoagulation to a target international normalised ratio (INR) of 1.4–2.0 can reduce the risk of myocardial infarction by 47% in high risk males aged 45–69.2 This compares favourably with the 34% reduction in myocardial infarction risk achievable with aspirin in chronic stable angina.3

    For secondary prevention of myocardial infarction, prospective studies show at least comparable efficacy between warfarin (adjusted to target INR of 2.4–4.8),4 5 and aspirin,6 while, in the meta-analytic context (antedating the comparison between aspirin and trapidil),6 data from the Antiplatelet Trialists Collaboration are less favourable than data from anticoagulant trials on the basis of “numbers needed to treat”.7 8 Statins are an alternative and powerful modality both for primary and secondary prevention of myocardial infarction in patients with modest as well as a marked increase in plasma cholesterol concentrations.9As with warfarin,2 5 6 their benefit extends to primary prevention of stroke,10 the latter objective currently not achievable with aspirin.11 In the presence of either coronary heart disease, hypertension, or diabetes, angiotensin converting enzyme blockade can reduce myocardial infarction risk by 20%, a spin off being a 23% reduction in heart failure risk.12

    Secondary prevention of myocardial infarction as well as primary prevention of heart failure after myocardial infarction, comprise two end points also achievable with β-adrenergic blockade in conventional, and in low doses, respectively.13 14 This raises the possibility of a highly beneficial drug interaction between the two modalities, perhaps unlikely to be enhanced by coprescription of aspirin, given the possibility of an adverse interaction between aspirin and enalapril.15

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    Dr Burgess responds on behalf of the authors:

    Dr Jolobe's comments seem rather indirectly related to our work. The objective of our study was to evaluate the prevalence of aspirin associated side effects and make a comment on the potential cost implications. We certainly did not intend to evaluate the relative value of aspirin compared to other agents used in patients with coronary artery disease. His letter reviews some important data on the use of other agents in this patient group and we would concur with the comments about the use of statins, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors, and β-blockers for the secondary prevention of coronary events. These drug groups appear to have an additive effect.

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