Daily Aspirin Therapy: The Benefits and Risks
It’s no secret that heart disease is the nation’s number one killer. Historically, doctors recommended aspirin to high-risk patients as a harmless way to keep heart disease at bay. And for good reason – studies have shown that aspirin can reduce inflammation, prevents blood clots and lowers the risk of death among people suffering from a heart attack. But it turns out, there’s more to the story.
Here are seven facts to consider before you begin an aspirin therapy regimen:
1. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has never approved aspirin for primary prevention. For decades, doctors have prescribed aspirin to patients with no history of heart disease to prevent a future event. However, the American College of Cardiology no longer recommends daily aspirin to patients at low risk of a heart attack or stroke. This latest research explains that the risk of taking aspirin daily (between 81 and 162 milligrams) outweighs the potential benefits.
2. Low-dose aspirin can have serious unwanted effects. Aspirin thins the blood (that’s how it prevents blood clots), so it’s no surprise that taking a daily aspirin increases the risk of internal bleeding. Usually, it causes bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract (primarily the stomach and small intestines), but bleeding can also occur in other areas of the body. If you are at risk for internal bleeding or experience stomach irritation while talking aspirin, talk to your doctor right away.
3. Statins are safer for primary prevention than aspirin. If you’re concerned about your heart disease risk, ask your doctor if you’re an appropriate candidate for a class of drugs called statins. Studies published in the Journal of the American Medical Association report that statins not only reduce cholesterol levels in the blood, they can also lower the risk of heart attack, stroke and even death from heart disease by up to 20-30 percent. During an office visit, your doctor can assess your 10-year risk of suffering from a heart event. If it’s over 7.5 percent, taking a statin may be your best bet.
4. Popping a daily aspirin could save your life if you’ve had a previous stroke or heart attack. If you have had a stroke or heart attack before, your doctor will likely recommend daily aspirin therapy. Taking aspirin daily can help reduce the chance that blood clots will form inside diseased arteries. It can also minimize heart damage during a heart attack – preventing the occurrence of future events.
5. Age makes a difference. According to the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, daily aspirin is typically considered most effective for adults age 50 to 59 who have had a cardiac episode before. In some cases, aspirin can still be used as a preventative method if you are between ages 50 to 70 and are at low risk of internal bleeding. Healthy, low-risk patients younger than 50 and older than 70 can put themselves at risk by using aspirin.
6. Combining aspirin with some medications may lead to serious complications. Like aspirin, non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, or NSAIDs, such as ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve), thin the blood and reduce clotting. Taken together, the two can increase your risk of internal bleeding. Also, taking an NSAID before you take your aspirin may minimize the desired effects for prevention of heart attack or stroke. Other drugs, too, increase your risk of bleeding, including warfarin (Coumadin), corticosteroids and some antidepressants. If you need to take any of these regularly, talk to your doctor about alternative or additional therapies that may protect you from gastrointestinal bleeding (like switching to acetaminophen-based pain medications (Tylenol) or taking Prilosec or Zantac).
7. Stopping aspirin without physician instruction could have deadly consequences. If you have had a previous heart attack, bypass surgery or have a stent placed in one or more of your heart arteries, you should always talk to your doctor before making any changes to your aspirin regimen. While it may be necessary to hold your aspirin temporarily for a procedure or surgery, these interruptions should be brief and infrequent.
Related Topic: Returning to Life After a Heart Attack
The bottom line – healthy lifestyle changes are the most effective way to prevent a first heart attack or stroke. If you smoke, stop. If you’re stressed, implement relaxation techniques. If you’re inactive, get moving. And if you eat junk, clean up your diet. Together these strategies can dramatically reduce your risk of heart disease.
No matter what you do though, never self-prescribe aspirin without getting an accurate heart assessment. Only then will you and your doctor really know whether the benefits of aspirin therapy outweigh the potential risks.
For an appointment or to find a doctor, visit henryford.com or call 1-800-HENRYFORD (436-7936).