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Here's some news that may be useful to millions of people who take a low-dose aspirin for their heart health: Taking the aspirin before bed may reduce the chance of having a heart attack or stroke in the morning, a new study suggests.

The American Heart Association recommends that people at high risk of having a heart attack should take a daily low dose of aspirin, if told to by their health care provider, and that heart attack survivors regularly take low-dose aspirin.

Aspirin keeps platelets from forming clots, which can cause heart attack and strokes, says cardiologist Sidney Smith Jr., a professor at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and a spokesman for the heart association. "Heart attacks are more likely to occur in the morning, so anything that would reduce platelet activity during the morning hours could be beneficial."

Researchers in the Netherlands studied 290 patients with heart disease who were already taking aspirin. They had participants take 100 milligrams of aspirin either after they woke up in the morning or at bedtime during two three-month periods. At the end of each period, they measured participants' blood pressure and platelet activity.

Blood pressure was not reduced by taking aspirin before bed; however, blood platelet activity was reduced significantly in the morning if people took an aspirin at night, says study author Tobias Bonten of the Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands. He presented the data Tuesday at the American Heart Association's Scientific Sessions in Dallas.

"Platelet activity is highest in the morning, and that is also the time that most heart attacks and strokes occur, so if you reduce platelet activity during the morning hours, you might reduce heart attacks and stroke at that time," he says.

This is the first study to explore the timing of aspirin intake among cardiovascular disease patients, and it may be useful to millions of patients taking low-dose aspirin, he says.

Bonten says more research is needed to confirm that the reduced platelet activity leads to fewer heart attacks and strokes. "That's the next step."

Smith says there needs to be additional studies "to demonstrate that this beneficial effect on platelets is translated into fewer heart attacks and strokes."

People should not start aspirin therapy without first consulting with their physician, the heart association says. The risks and benefits of aspirin therapy vary for each person, the group says.

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