Purchases from pharmacies, inquiries to physicians and the stock prices of aspirin manufacturers all increased, but not a great deal, Wednesday in reaction to news that a major medical study had shown that taking an aspirin tablet every other day may sharply reduce the risk of first heart attacks.
For the most part, the watchword among health professionals was caution. They emphasized that no one should start taking aspirin regularly without first consulting a physician.
The director of the federal National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, Dr. Claude Lenfant, said it would be a "tragic situation" if people adopted aspirin as a kind of new "fad diet."
The doctor who directed the study, Charles H. Hennekens of the Harvard Medical School, declared: "My colleagues and I have thought long and hard about this very crucial question. . . . We strongly believe the decision whether to use aspirin must be a matter of individual judgment . . . based on discussions between doctor and patient."
The Los Angeles office of the American Heart Assn. issued an advisory urging prior consultation with physicians and making these points:
- Aspirin should not be used by everyone and particularly should be avoided by people with liver or kidney diseases, peptic ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding or other bleeding problems.
- Users should be aware of such side effects as thinning of the blood.
- Use should be curtailed before going into minor surgery.
- Aspirin is not a substitute for other heart attack preventives, and all cardiovascular risk factors should be evaluated.
A spokesman for the association said a brochure, "Aspirin and Your Heart," has been printed and will be sent free to anyone sending a stamped, self-addressed business envelope to the group's offices at 3550 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, Calif. 90010. People who have specific questions may call 1-800-HEART-LA.
Vital to Public
While caution was voiced Wednesday, some medical authorities said the public should be aware of the importance of the information about the value of aspirin as a heart attack preventive.
Cardiologist Lawrence S. Cohen of Yale Medical School, a participant in the study, suggested, for example, that all men between ages 35 and 70 should take aspirin, regardless of risk factors, as long as the drug does not cause gastrointestinal upset or bleeding. He said women should use it if they have a risk factor for heart attack, such as high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, smoking, diabetes or a family history of heart attacks.
Robin Mills, president of Glenbrook Laboratories, which produces Bayer aspirin, said his company will launch an advertising campaign for the product and begin marketing a new "Calendar Pak," containing a month's supply of aspirin labeled by the day and week.
Mills said his company, the nation's largest producer, makes 4 billion tablets of aspirin a year. He said use of aspirin has mounted sharply since 1985, when doctors first started recommending regular use of it to prevent second heart attacks.
He said Bayer's prices usually are about $3.50 for 100 tablets. Some supermarket brands of aspirin sell in Los Angeles for less than $3 for 500 tablets, although they may not have the casing and certain absorbent qualities of the more expensive brands.
Several pharmacists said Wednesday that they expect sales to rise only moderately in coming days.
Jim Negrete, staff pharmacist at Longs Drug Store in Costa Mesa, said that although he had not noticed an increase in sales Wednesday, individuals generally seem to be moving in the direction of taking aspirins to reduce the risk of heart attacks.
"Reports of taking aspirins once a day have been out since 1982," he said.
Kenneth Reich reported from Los Angeles and Robert Gillette from Washington. Staff Writer Brenda Paik Sunoo contributed from Orange County.