A little backgound is called for. My family history suggests that I am at risk for heart attack or stroke. My father's father [the socialist] died of a stroke, my mother's father suffered a debilitating stroke, and my mother died of a heart attack. All of this is compounded by the fact that a good many years ago, I suffered a transient ischemic attack [or TIA, as it is called in the trade], a short-lived mini-stroke. [Readers are free to invoke this fact as explanation for my bizarre beliefs, although I was assured that I recovered competely.] Accordingly, I watch my diet, eat very little salt, exercise, and take various medications designed to lower my blood pressure and cholesterol level. In addition, like millions of other Americans, I take daily what I still refer to as a "baby aspirin," which is to say an 81 mg. tablet.
This morning, I checked in on the UPSHOT, a NYTIMES column for the statistically obsessed. There, I found a fascinating column about medical statistics, which introduced me to the concept of Number Needed to Treat, or NNT. This is the minimum number of persons taking some medication required statistically to account for one cure or disease prevention. Apparently, doctors now know stuff like this, as a result of keeping elaborate records.
The NNT for a baby aspirin is 2000! Here is what the UPSHOT reports:
"According to clinical trials, if about 2,000 people follow these guidelines over a two-year period, one additional first heart attack will be prevented. That doesn’t mean the 1,999 other people have heart attacks. The fact is, on average about 3.6 of them would have a first heart attack regardless of whether they took the aspirin. Even more important, 1,995.4 people would never have a heart attack whether or not they took aspirin. Only one person is actually affected by aspirin. If he takes it, the number of people who remain heart attack-free rises to 1996.4. If he doesn’t, the number remains 1995.4. But for 1,999 of the 2,000 people, aspirin doesn’t make any difference at all."
Needless to say, there is no way of knowing who that single individual is.
I have to say, this gives me pause, although I will continue to take the aspirin, of course. I mean, with my luck, I might just be that one person.