Background: Despite the use of warfarin, major systemic embolism remains an important complication in patients with heart-valve replacement. Although the addition of antiplatelet agents has the potential to reduce this complication, their efficacy and safety when given in combination with warfarin are uncertain.
Methods: In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial, we assessed the efficacy and safety of adding aspirin (100 mg per day) to warfarin treatment (target international normalized ratio, 3.0 to 4.5) in 370 patients with mechanical heart valves or with tissue valves plus atrial fibrillation or a history of thromboembolism.
Results: A total of 186 patients were randomly assigned to aspirin and 184 to placebo, and they were followed for up to 4 years (average, 2.5). Major systemic embolism or death from vascular causes occurred in 6 aspirin-treated patients (1.9 percent per year) and 24 placebo-treated patients (8.5 percent per year) (risk reduction with aspirin, 77 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 44 to 91 percent; P < 0.001). Major systemic embolism, nonfatal intracranial hemorrhage, or death from hemorrhage or vascular causes occurred in 12 patients assigned to aspirin (3.9 percent per year) and 28 patients assigned to placebo (9.9 percent per year) (risk reduction, 61 per cent; 95 percent confidence interval, 24 to 80 percent; P = 0.005); major systemic embolism or death from any cause occurred in 13 patients (4.2 percent) and 33 patients (11.7 percent), respectively (risk reduction, 65 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 33 to 82 percent; P < 0.001); and death from all causes occurred in 9 patients (2.8 percent) and 22 patients (7.4 percent), respectively (risk reduction, 63 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 19 to 83 percent; P = 0.01). Bleeding occurred in 71 patients in the aspirin group (35.0 percent), as compared with 49 patients in the placebo group (22.0 percent) (increase in risk, 55 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, 8 to 124 percent; P = 0.02); major bleeding occurred in 24 and 19 patients, respectively (increase in risk, 27 percent; 95 percent confidence interval, -30 to 132 percent; P = 0.43).
Conclusions: In patients with mechanical heart valves and high-risk patients with prosthetic tissue valves, the addition of aspirin to warfarin therapy reduced mortality, particularly mortality from vascular causes, together with major systemic embolism. Although there was some increase in bleeding, the risk of the combined treatment was more than offset by the considerable benefit.