Coating on Aspirin Sets Off a Debate

(New York Times) – Millions of Americans take low-dose aspirin every day to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But a study published last week challenges some cherished beliefs about the familiar remedy, leaving some consumers to wonder if they should throw out their coated pills and others concerned that they unnecessarily may be taking expensive substitutes.

The study, published in the journal Circulation, by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, tested 400 healthy people for evidence that aspirin did not work in them, a phenomenon called “aspirin resistance.” Aspirin prevents blood platelets from sticking together, which can lead to heart attacks and strokes. Previous studies have estimated that anywhere from 5 to 40 percent of the population is resistant to aspirin’s effects.

But the study essentially found that the condition doesn’t exist: they could not document a single case of true aspirin resistance in their sample. What had appeared to be aspirin resistance, they said, actually was caused by the coating commonly used on aspirin pills intended to protect the stomach. The coating slowed the drug’s absorption into the body.

The study didn’t evaluate whether coated aspirin was less likely to prevent heart attacks or strokes, said Dr. Garret FitzGerald, one of the authors. And people who took the coated aspirin in his study eventually showed a response to it.

But people who seek out coated aspirin may be doing so unnecessarily, he said, especially since previous studies have not consistently shown that the coating even prevents gastric problems.

“There’s no rationale for you to be on coated aspirin,” said Dr. FitzGerald, who is a cardiologist and chairman of pharmacology at the University of Pennsylvania.


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