Aspirin and Your Heart: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

In addition to taking aspirin to relieve pain and fever, millions of Americans take a low-dose or “baby” aspirin daily to reduce their risk for heart attack and stroke.

Should you join in?

“No, not without their physician’s approval,” says Douglas Hoey, chief operating officer for the National Community Pharmacists Association. “Although doctors recommend many adults take aspirin regularly for its preventive properties, consumers shouldn’t make that decision themselves.”

The answers to the following questions can help you understand the risks and benefits of aspirin.

Q. What are the different uses for aspirin?

A. Aspirin is prescribed for these conditions:

  • Heart attack. The FDA states half a regular-strength aspirin tablet reduces the risk for death by up to 23 percent if taken as soon as a heart attack is suspected, and continued for 30 days thereafter. However, the benefits of aspirin probably extend much further, and most physicians now prescribe lifelong aspirin therapy to all people after a heart attack.

  • Recurrent heart attack or angina. People who have had a previous heart attack or who suffer from chest pain can reduce their chance for these conditions by taking aspirin.

  • Stroke prevention. Regular aspirin use can prevent a stroke in people who have had a transient ischemic attack—a ministroke. Aspirin also helps prevent a second stroke and lessens the damaging effects of a stroke.

  • Pain relief. Aspirin relieves arthritis and other aches and pains.

Q. If stroke runs in my family, should I take a “baby” aspirin daily?

A. Not necessarily. Only your doctor can determine if aspirin is right for you. Depending on the kind of stroke you are at risk for, aspirin could help or harm you.

Q. What are the risks of taking aspirin?

A.  Some of the risks include possible bleeding in the brain and stomach, and asthma attack in people who are allergic to aspirin.

In addition, people who have asthma, high blood pressure, or liver or kidney disease, or who take blood thinners or ACE inhibitors shouldn’t take aspirin without first consulting their physician.

“Aspirin has potential risks as well as benefits, like any drug,” Hoey says. “Although aspirin is a common over-the-counter medication, it’s not appropriate for everyone.”

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