Objectives. Low-dose aspirin given for secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease is frequently withdrawn prior to surgical or diagnostic procedures to reduce bleeding complications. This may expose patients to increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. Aim of the study was to review and quantify cardiovascular risks because of periprocedural aspirin withdrawal and bleeding risks with the continuation of aspirin.
Methods. We screened MEDLINE (January 1970–October 2004) with additional manual cross-referencing for clinical studies, surveys on the opinions of doctors and guidelines.
Results. Studies reporting the relative risk of acute cardiovascular events after aspirin withdrawal when compared with its continuation were not found. However, retrospective investigations revealed that aspirin withdrawal precedes up to 10.2% of acute cardiovascular syndromes. The time interval between discontinuation and acute cerebral events was 14.3 ± 11.3 days, 8.5 ± 3.6 days for acute coronary syndromes, and 25.8 ± 18.1 days for acute peripheral arterial syndromes (P < 0.02 versus acute coronary syndromes). On aspirin-related bleeding risks, we obtained 41 (12 observational retrospective, 19 observational prospective, 10 randomized) studies, reporting on 49 590 patients (14 981 on aspirin). Baseline frequency of bleeding complications varied between 0 (skin lesion excision, cataract surgery) and 75% (transrectal prostate biopsy). Whilst aspirin increased the rate of bleeding complications by factor 1.5 (median, interquartile range: 1.0–2.5), it did not lead to a higher level of the severity of bleeding complications (exception: intracranial surgery, and possibly transurethral prostatectomy). Surveys amongst doctors on the management of this problem demonstrate wide variations. Available guidelines are scarce and in part contradictory.
Conclusions. Only if low-dose aspirin may cause bleeding risks with increased mortality or sequels comparable with the observed cardiovascular risks after aspirin withdrawal, it should be discontinued prior to an intended operation or procedure. Controlled clinical studies are urgently needed.