Why Do Paramedics Give Patients Aspirin Before They Get To The Hospital? Why Is Aspirin So Important?

Dr. Krumholz answers the question: 'Why Do EMTs Give Heart Patients Aspirin?'

ByHarlan Krumholz, M.d., S.m., Harold H. Hines, Jr. Professor Of Medicine and Epidemiology And Public Health, Yale University School Of Medicine
December 24, 2008, 1:56 PM

— -- Question: Why do paramedics give patients aspirin before they get to the hospital? Why is aspirin so important?

Answer: So the interesting thing about aspirin is it's an excellent medication for lowering risk for people who are quite stable but are at somewhat of an increased risk of heart disease, either because of older age or risk factors, and it can reduce your risk of having, for example, a heart attack by maybe 20 to 30 percent. For some people it will reduce the risk of stroke as well.

Now, it also is an outstanding medication for the use when someone's actually having a heart attack, so, unlike the time when you're just taking it daily to reduce your risk, this is an emergency. But in that emergency setting, the taking of an aspirin can also reduce your risk of dying from the heart attack by about 20 to 30 percent. It's one of our most powerful and most important medications for the treatment of a heart attack.

Now, unlike some therapies, there's no strong evidence that you need to take it within seconds of the heart attack's onset. We seem to believe it's important within hours of the onset, certainly within 24 hours of the onset of a heart attack, and it's probably true that the earlier the better.

Some places have gone to having paramedics provide the aspirin. They do that for two reasons. They do that so it can be provided early, and they also do it so it's not forgotten, it's not overlooked, to ensure that the patient gets it, and then if they actually end up getting an extra aspirin in the emergency department, that's okay, that won't hurt them. But they do it to make sure it's not forgotten. But in general, the paramedics -- some places they'll give it, some places they won't.

The important thing is that someone who's having a heart attack does get an aspirin, they certainly get it within hours of the time of the heart attack occurring, and if you yourself want to take an aspirin from the moment that you believe thatyou're having a heart attack, it's not a bad idea. But it is one of the most important medications we have for treating heart attacks.

Next: During A Heart Attack, How Are Dangerous Heart Rhythms (Arrhythmia) Prevented And/Or Treated?

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