I was hurriedly shaving the other day and felt a sharp stinging sensation in my philtrum. Shortly thereafter, blood began pouring forth from the area and dribbling into my mouth.
I don’t typically name-check the area between the nose and the margin of the upper lip, but if one cuts the area (and wants to write about the experience), it is useful to have a single noun that describes it precisely.
The human philtrum is apparently vestigial; per Wikipedia
The philtrum (Latin: philtrum, Greek: φίλτρονphiltron, lit. “love charm”), or medial cleft, is a vertical groove in the middle area of the upper lip, common to many mammals, extending in humans from the nasal septum to the tubercle of the upper lip. Together with a glandular rhinarium and slit-like nostrils, it is believed[by whom?] to constitute the primitive condition for mammals in general.
Although lacking function, it does cause a protrusion in the otherwise smooth facade of the face, and as a consequence, is at an increased risk for cuts.
Despite holding pressure on the cut for many minutes and daubing it with toilet paper, it continued to bleed. The bleeding continued on for much longer than I am use to, and after a while I realized that my bleeding was prolonged due to the aspirin I have been taking.
I’ve been following my own advice to those with documented significant atherosclerotic plaque, and have been taking 81mg aspirin daily. I began chewing daily my chewable aspirin after writing my post on the best form of baby aspirin to take. Prior to that it was only intermittently.
BARCing Up the Willow Tree
As a cardiologist I commonly hear patients complain about the nuisance of bruising and bleeding caused by the aspirin and other blood thinners I have prescribed them. Now I had joined their ranks.
Doctors mostly worry about major bleeding caused by aspirin; things like bleeding from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, or into the head. A recent review found that baby aspirin doubles the risk of bleeding from the upper GI tract, and increases the risk of intracranial hemorrhage by a factor of 1.4.
There is relatively little concern about the type of minor bleeding I experienced. However, beginning in 2010, the Bleeding Academic Research Consortium (BARC) investigators came up with a more precise way of categorizing bleeding events, the BARC bleeding types.
By far, the most common bleeding on aspirin is the kind I had: Type 1 BARC.
Type 1: bleeding that is not actionable and does not cause the patient to seek unscheduled performance of studies, hospitalization, or treatment by a healthcare professional. Examples include, but are not limited to, bruising, hematoma, nosebleeds, or hemorrhoidal bleeding for which the patient does not seek medical attention. Type 1 bleeding may include episodes that lead to discontinuation of medications by the patient because of bleeding without visiting a healthcare provider.
Indeed, my Type 1 bleeding prompted me to skip my aspirin doses for the next few days.
Many patients do the same thing. Just this morning a patient told she had stopped taking her aspirin because she thought it was causing “little red spots” on her arms.
Does Prolonged Bleeding Mean You Are Taking Too Much Aspirin?
My philtrum persisted in bleeding, and as I felt the need to use my hands for something other than holding pressure, I put a band-aid on the area (actually a Nexcare), which temporarily stemmed the bleeding tide: I began pondering if I was taking too much aspirin.
Since aspirin is so widely used to prevent heart attacks and strokes caused by sticky platelets, why isn’t there a way to see how effective it is at making sticky platelets less sticky? We have such methods for blood pressure meds (blood pressure levels) and cholesterol lowering drugs (cholesterol levels).
And for the older blood thinner warfarin, we have a blood test which helps us make sure the dosage of medication is keeping the blood thinning in a range that maximizes effectiveness and minimizes bleeding risk.
It turns out there are lots of ways to measure how effective aspirin is in an individual, but no consensus on which particular method should be used, and authorities don’t recommend we make such measurements.
This article on platelet function tests lists 13 different platelet function tests, ranging from the mostly historical “bleeding time” to sophisticated tests of platelet aggregation.
The Verify Now test (not available in the US) of platelet reactivity predicted in one study which patients would have BARC type I bleeding like mine. The test did not predict major bleeding complications, things like GI bleeding and intracranial hemorrhage.
Those patients who had minor bleeding problems were more likely to be noncompliant, stopping their aspirin therapy.
I could easily visualize the following scenario as the blood began pooling underneath my band-aid and progressing down my philtrum.
Let’s say I’ve just had a heart attack and had a drug-eluting stent placed in one of my coronary arteries. I’ve been started on aspirin and another anti-platelet drug. I cut myself and bleed excessively and prolongedly. I decide that the aspirin is the reason, and start skipping doses. The lower aspirin levels subsequently allow my platelets to become sticky again. As a result a clot forms in my coronary stent and a heart attack ensues.
Thus, prolonged bleeding from a cut, considered a minor side effect of aspirin therapy, could increase heart attack risk.
There is a clinically available test for aspirin effect called AspirinWorks.
The AspirinWorks Test Kit is an enzyme-linked immunoassay (ELISA) to determine levels of 11-dehydrothromboxane B2 (11dhTxB2) in human urine, which aids in the qualitative detection of aspirin effect in apparently healthy individuals post ingestion. Unlike platelet aggregation tests, which require freshly drawn blood that must be evaluated within at least four hours, the AspirinWorks Test is performed on a random urine sample that can easily be obtained in any doctor’s office.
AspirinWorks points out the putative benefits of testing for aspirin effect:
An increasing body of evidence in the medical literature overwhelmingly supports clinically significant variability in aspirin effect, which has been well-established in findings from trials, including the Heart Outcomes Prevention Evaluation (HOPE) Study and the CHARISMA trial published in Circulation (Journal) (2002 and 2008). These trials have demonstrated that:
- Increased levels of urinary 11dhTxB2 are associated with as much as a four fold increased risk for adverse cardiovascular events or death.
- Statin treatment is associated with lower concentrations of 11dhTxB2
- 11dhTxB2 is an independent, modifiable predictor of risk for stroke, heart attack and cardiac death (CHARISMA).
I have never ordered this test and am unaware of any other physicians ordering it on their patients.