Thursday, April 22, 2010

On Heart Attacks, Aspirin and Lying Down

There is another urban story in the rounds regarding what to do when a life-threatening event strikes. As is usual with these stories, the story of taking aspirin for a heart attack but not lying down is true in part, largely false, and needs a HUGE caution sign with further information.

The idea of taking aspirin for a heart attack dates back to 1991 with a public statement by an emergency medical doctor, but who had not done an actual study. (1). Even though almost 20 years have passed, the research regarding using aspirin to treat heart attacks is still from informal observation, i.e. reviewing the charts of people after a heart attack and seeing that people on aspirin generally lived longer. There is as yet no actual medical research study of placing some people on aspirin and using others as 'controls.' That is likely because the patent on aspirin expired decades ago and no drug company will fund an expensive test without a patent to control the market.

The first flag on this email is that it states an EMT (unnamed) suggested this treatment, but the email did not also include a confirmation from a named doctor or pharmacist, or cite another medical authority. Bayer (the aspirin company), in fact, received a warning letter from the FDA that such labeling and advertisement is illegal. (2). As the FDA warned Bayer, there are several situations in which aspirin should NOT be taken, even during a heart attack, and the consumer labeling would be too complex for a layperson to understand.

Even the American Heart Association has retreated to cautiously state that "research shows that getting an aspirin early in the treatment of a heart attack, along with other treatments EMTs and Emergency Department physicians provide, can significantly improve your chances of survival." (3, Emphasis added.)

Second, while the FDA acknowledges the idea of taking aspirin during the onset of a heart attack, the FDA does not discuss dosage, and in light of the Bayer warning, no authority likely would without a test that no one will perform. (4). Outside of the U.S., one or two of the 81-mg (a.k.a., child's aspirin) seems to be the suggested dose. (5). Bayer reported to the FDA that AspirinCardio, an aspirin-drug it markets OUTSIDE the U.S., states to take two of the 81-mg sizes in the event of a heart attack. (6). Bayer, however, did not state whether they made an actual study, or decided that recommending 2 pills would double the profit over recommending 1 pill.

Importantly, in the event of a heart attack, DO NOT take extra-strength size aspirin, and especially do not take the Bayer "crystal" aspirin. This formulation is dangerous because it contains 850 mg of aspirin (five times Bayer's suggested dose, which may cause stomach bleeding) plus caffeine, which raises blood pressure. (7).

The third concern is that if you are going to take aspirin during a heart attack, consider a chewable aspirin instead of swallowing a whole pill. The chewable version seems to work faster to reduce clotting than swallowing a whole pill. (8).

Lastly, challenge every email-based health advisory. This root of this "don't lie down" myth is well over a year old, yet EMTs and hospitals continue to place heart attack patients flat on a gurney or flat on a bed. (3). This fact alone is a certain signal that the whole email is to some degree false.

Also raising the caution flag is that this email is a revision of a March 2009 version that also lacks authoritative references. (1). Two other troubling aspects of this email are that early distributors that failed to substantiate the facts. One was a member of a group generally better known for name calling than fact checking. (9). Another source recommended Crystal Bayer for heart attacks under the title "Aspirin Crystal: Heart Attack’s New Dear Friend" from Bonsai International News and Reviews – of India. (10). Since when does heart attack have a "dear friend?"

(1) Barbara and David P. Mikkelson,, Bedside Companion, last updated: 1/12/2010,
(2) Public Health Service, Food and Drug Administration, Warning Letter to Bayer HealthCare LLC, 10/27/2008, last updated: 07/08/2009,
(3) Aspirin in Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention, American Heart Association, undated,
(4) Dept. of Health and Human Services, Food and Drug Administration, Aspirin: Questions and Answers, last updated: 06/18/2009,
(5) Robin Parks, MS, Aspirin for heart attack and unstable angina, last updated: May 14, 2007,, (citing Danchin N, Durand E (2006). Acute myocardial infarction, search date August 2004. Online version of BMJ Clinical Evidence.
(6) Bayer, AspirinCardio, 11/26/03, Aspirin® in cardiovascular indications including primary prevention indications,
(7) Bayer Aspirin Pain Reliever Extra-Strength Quick Release Crystals, 20-Count Pouches (Pack of 2),,
(8) Harvard Health Publications, Aspirin for heart attack: Chew or swallow?, May 2005,
(9) John Vescuso, NEW Aspirin - a reminder!, 2/27/2010, Valley Forge Patriots - Tea Party Conservatives,
(10) Bonsai International News and Reviews, Aspirin Crystal: Heart Attack’s New Dear Friend, 1/7/2010,

1 comment:

  1. Great job Gerald, very helpful information and I am extremely impressed with how thoroughly you cite the resources. Keep up the great blogging.


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