Aspirin is a well-known over-the-counter pain reliever, taken by millions of people each day and regularly prescribed by doctors to treat minor aches and pains. But did you know that a daily aspirin dose may help lower your risk of heart attack?
Doctors may prescribe a daily aspirin regimen for patients with a history of heart attack or stroke, or for those who are at high risk for a first heart attack. The treatment is not without its risks, though, as even over-the-counter medications carry a variety of side effects. For this reason, do not start a daily aspirin regimen without first talking to your doctor.
A Study of Aspirin
According to a study published in 2016, regular aspirin use brings with it an astonishing array of health benefits over time. In this study, researchers sought to prove the effect of aspirin on the health and longevity of a population, and whether healthcare costs would decrease with the increased use of aspirin.
Researchers determined that taking aspiring regularly over a 20-year period would result in fewer cases of cancer and heart disease, leading to a nationwide increase in life expectancy of around four months. Healthcare savings would be $692 billion.
Again, though these findings are extremely promising, we must reiterate: talk to your physician before beginning a daily aspirin regimen.
Daily Aspirin Usage
Your doctor may recommend a daily dose of aspirin if you meet one of the following four criteria:
- You have a history of heart attack or stroke.
- You are at high risk for heart attack.
- You have diabetes, are a man over age 50 or a woman over age 60, and have one or more risk factors for heart disease.
- You underwent coronary bypass surgery, had a stent placed, or have experienced chest pain due to angina (coronary artery disease).
For adults between the ages of 50 and 69, who are at increased risk of heart attack or stroke and do not have a risk of increased bleeding, the United States Preventive Services Task Force recommends a daily aspirin regimen. For adults under age 50 and over age 70, this same group recommends further research.
Meanwhile, the FDA does not recommend daily aspirin therapy as a preventive measure unless the person has a history of heart attack or stroke.
Differences exist between the sexes as well as between expert recommendations. Women, for example, experience greater reduction in stroke with aspirin therapy than they do risk for heart attack.
As more scientists complete more research, expect guidelines and recommendations to continue changing.
Aspirin Risks and Side Effects
Every medication comes with some amount of risk. Watch any pharmaceutical commercial and you’ll see that the list of potential side effects takes up half of the airtime.
One of the main risks of aspirin, whether taken for pain management or to prevent heart attacks, is the fact that it works as a blood thinner. This is why, if you have a surgery or dental procedure scheduled, your physician instructs you to avoid aspirin in the weeks leading up to your surgery. If your doctor places you on a daily aspirin regimen and your dentist or surgeon recommends ceasing before your procedure, talk to your physician before stopping aspirin therapy.
Alcohol also thins the blood, so drink alcohol in moderation if prescribed aspirin. Moderation equals one drink per day for men over age 65 and women of all ages, and two drinks per day for men under age 65.
In addition, other medications may counteract or negate the effect of the aspirin (and vice versa). This is especially true with ibuprofen, commonly prescribed for arthritis. If you take both regularly, wait at least 30 minutes after taking your aspirin dose to take your ibuprofen.
Potential complications include allergic reaction, increased risk for hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding stroke), and stomach ulcers due to gastrointestinal bleeding.
Typically, doctors prescribing aspirin therapy recommend a low dose, such as that found in baby aspirin.
How Does Aspirin Help?
Aspirin’s blood-thinning properties reduce your body’s blood clotting abilities. Blood clotting is a positive when you receive an injury that bleeds, as it seals the blood vessel and stops the flow of blood. It is less positive when this clotting happens within the vessels, especially those narrowed by atherosclerosis (fatty deposits within the artery). This may cause the vessel lining to burst, triggering a blood clot that blocks the artery and interferes with the flow of blood to your heart, causing a heart attack. Aspirin therapy helps reduce clotting, and therefore lowers risk for heart attack.
Follow Your Physician’s Advice
A bottle of aspirin includes a great deal of information as to risk and recommended dose, but nothing on its use as a preventive against heart attack and stroke. Your physician is your best source of advice on this therapy and can guide you to the right dosage and even the right product for your needs. Only your doctor knows whether aspirin’s risks outweigh its potential benefits.