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Failure of Aspirin to Prevent Atherothrombosis

Potential Mechanisms and Implications for Clinical Practice

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Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) reduces the odds of serious atherothrombotic vascular events and death in a broad category of high risk patients by about one-quarter. The mechanism is believed to be inhibition of thromboxane biosynthesis by inactivation of platelet cyclo-oxygenase-1 enzyme. However, aspirin is not that effective; it still fails to prevent the majority of serious vascular events. Mechanisms that may account for the failure of aspirin to prevent vascular events include non-atherothrombotic causes of vascular disease, non-adherence to aspirin therapy, an inadequate dosage, alternative ‘upstream’ pathways of platelet activation (e.g. via stimulation of the ADP, collagen or thrombin receptors on platelets), aspirin-insensitive thromboxane biosynthesis (e.g. via monocyte cyclo-oxygenase-2), or drugs that interfere with the antiplatelet effects of aspirin. Genetic or acquired factors may further modify the inhibitory effects of aspirin on platelets (e.g. polymorphisms involving platelet-associated proteins, increased platelet turnover states).

Identification and treatment of the potential causes of aspirin failure could prevent at least another 20% of serious vascular events (i.e. over and above those that are currently prevented by aspirin). There is currently no role for routine laboratory testing to measure the antiplatelet effects of aspirin. Clinicians should ensure that patients at high risk of atherothrombosis (>3% risk over 5 years) are compliant with aspirin therapy and are taking the correct dosage (75–150 mg/day). Patients who cannot tolerate aspirin, are allergic to aspirin, or have experienced recurrent serious atherothrombotic events whilst taking aspirin, should be treated with clopidogrel, and patients with acute coronary syndromes benefit from the combination of clopidogrel plus aspirin. Future research is required to standardize and validate laboratory testing of the antiplatelet effects of aspirin and to identify treatments that can both improve these laboratory measures and reduce the risk of future atherothrombotic events.

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Eikelboom, J.W., Hankey, G.J. Failure of Aspirin to Prevent Atherothrombosis. Am J Cardiovasc Drugs 4, 57–67 (2004).

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  • Aspirin
  • Clopidogrel
  • Thromboxane
  • Platelet Reactivity
  • Aspirin Therapy