Corbin Bernsen Rules In Favor Of Aspirin
John Morgan, Spotlight Health
Moore with actor Corbin Bernsen at the launch of the "Bayer Aspirin
ASAP Saving Lives" campaign in Washington DC.
With medical adviser Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.
LA Law alum Corbin Bernsen plays to win. But while he was "executed"
on Celebrity Mole: Hawaii, one thing Bernsen won't be quitting any time
soon is his aspirin therapy.
"I've actually already been on a Bayer aspirin regimen for the last eight years
or so," Bernsen says. "My dad had a stroke. It's one of those life-changing
events. It was right around the time I was turning 40. We were doing LA Law
and I got this call that my dad was in Rome and had had a stroke. I want to
stress that it wasn't a huge stroke, but it was enough to provide a serious
A wake up call that is ringing for millions of Americans.
According to 2000 estimates, 61,800,000 Americans have one or more forms of
cardiovascular disease, America's #1 killer. It's estimated that over 650,000
Americans will experience a first heart attack this year. In 2000, CVD claimed
But despite the well-documented dangers of heart disease, studies indicate
that only 21 million people - one-third of those at risk for CVD -- are on some
type of aspirin regimen and are really aware of their risk. That leaves approximately
40 million people untreated and in the dark.
Bernsen was warned by his doctor he was at risk for CVD.
"My dad's physician, who subsequently has become my doctor, told me I should
get on an aspirin regimen," Bernsen admits. "Quite frankly, I didn't listen
to his advice."
But some time later Bernsen's father had another minor stroke and a friend
of his family suffered a severe stroke.
"That was another wake up call," says Bernsen, who is compensated by Bayer
for assisting the aspirin manufacturer's Aspirin Saving Lives ASAP campaign.
"This time I started the aspirin regimen -- which just happened to be Bayer.
I take the 81 mg low dose aspirin - it's really easy to do now - in the beginning
it was breaking tablets in half. Now you even have a choice of flavors."
"It's part of my personal routine," Bernsen adds. "I do it in the morning right
before I brush my teeth. Routines work well for me."
What also works well is aspirin.
The FDA first recognized aspirin's life-saving
benefits in 1980 by approving its use for the prevention of a second heart attack.
Now through a new citizen's petition, Bayer is asking the FDA to expand labeling
for aspirin's use in the prevention of a first heart attack in at-risk individuals.
A 2002 analysis of five primary prevention aspirin
trials presented to the American Heart Association showed that, in patients
with risk factors for cardiovascular disease, aspirin reduces the risk of a
first heart attack by 32%.
Dr. Charles Hennekens, an aspirin researcher and professor of medicine and
epidemiology and public health at the University of Miami School of Medicine,
believes aspirin should take its place alongside statins, beta blockers, and
ACE inhibitors as front-line defenders.
"The data, along with the findings that aspirin
reduces the risk of death by 23% if given during a heart attack and by 15% in
a range of people who have survived cardiovascular events, demonstrate that
the more widespread, appropriate use of aspirin in secondary and primary prevention
would avoid many premature deaths and heart attacks," says Hennekens.
First synthesized in the Bayer laboratory in 1897,
aspirin is an effective and tolerable pain reliever. But it wasn't until 1971
that its anti-clotting effects were first documented.
"Small amounts of aspirin were shown to decrease the tendency of blood platelets
to stick together," explains Hennekens. Like red and white blood cells, platelets
originate in the bone marrow and circulate in the blood. Their normal job is
to promote blood clotting and stop bleeding from an injury. "The reasoning was
if you decrease the ability of platelets to stick together for their lifetime
you would decrease clotting. But in 1971 people didn't really take it seriously
or think that it would have clinical relevance."
But it clearly does.
"If you take an aspirin today, it will over the entire life of the platelet
decrease the tendency for these platelets to stick together," Hennekens says.
"The sticking together of these platelets is the immediate cause of an event
- so by decreasing platelet stickiness, aspirin has now been shown conclusively
decrease a very wide range of cardiovascular events."
The American Heart Association and Hennekens' research
recommend aspirin therapy if a person has a 10% or greater ten-year risk for
a heart event.
A person's ten-year risk is determined by the Framingham risk score which factors:
- Total cholesterol
- HDL cholesterol
- Blood pressure
- Cigarette smoking
Each element is given a point value. The total point value then corresponds
to a percentage risk over 10 years.
But Hennekens warns that the Framingham risk score doesn't include all the
pertinent risk factors. Bernsen is a case in point.
"I have a family history," Bernsen says. "I have to be more careful. Is there
something in my genetic makeup that makes me more at risk for heart disease?
I believe there is. My father was the sign."
"Without Corbin's family history, I would have said his taking aspirin back
then was a little early," Hennekens says. "But when you have that positive family
history, it doubles the risk independently."
Among the important missing risk factors are:
- Physical inactivity
- Family history
"I'm in favor of the more widespread and appropriate use of aspirin to treat
and prevent heart disease," Hennekens says. "We have sub-optimal utilization
of aspirin in people who have already had events and are having events and apparently
healthy people. We have to get people on aspirin whose risk is sufficiently
But aspirin is not for everyone.
"When you look at the side effect profile of aspirin at the doses used for
cardiovascular protection, you see that about four percent of people have gastrointestinal
distress and one percent have GI bleeding," Hennekens reports. "You have to
weigh the benefits against the risks -- especially since there is also 1-2 per
1000 risk of bleeding into the brain. That has to be considered on whether to
use aspirin. It is very rare but catastrophic side effect - that's why we recommended
aspirin for apparently healthy people with a 10% or greater 10 year risk of
a coronary event."
And Hennekens and Bernsen are quick to point out that aspirin is not a cure-all.
"Aspirin should be used as an adjunct not an alternative to managing other
risk factors," Hennekens cautions.
Bernsen says he walks two hours a day and watches not only what he eats but
how much he eats. He also doesn't smoke and reports his cholesterol is fine.
"You can't just take an aspirin and sit around and have 12 donuts and think,
'I took my aspirin so I'm not going to have a heart attack,'" Bernsen adds.
"It's really important each person take personal responsibility for their health.
You can't keep thinking that someone else is going to take care of it. You have
to be part of the solution."
"Aspirin is a simple available thing you can do with clinically proven results,"
Bernsen concludes. "Take responsibility for your own health. All you have to
do is talk to your doctor and determine if you're at risk. It can make a huge
difference in your life."
To calculate your risk of a heart attack, click
here. (Framingham Risk Scores)
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Created: 2/22/2003  - John Morgan & Stephen A. Shoop, M.D.