Sandra Rose, a nurse in Raleigh, NC, started taking a daily aspirin because
"it seemed like a wonder drug," preventing heart attacks and strokes.
"All the patients seemed to be on a low-dose aspirin," 63-year-old Rose
says. She started taking one herself.
Then, after hearing reports of stomach bleeding caused by aspirin, this
wonder drug had Rose wondering: How can you tell if a daily aspirin is right
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of U.S. men and women, accounting for 40% of all U.S. deaths. That's more than all forms of cancer combined.
Why is heart disease so deadly? One reason is that many people are slow to seek help when symptoms arise. Yes, someone gripped by sudden chest pain probably knows to call 911. But heart symptoms aren't always intense or obvious, and they vary from person to person and according to gender.
Because it can be hard to make sense of heart symptoms, doctors warn...
Heart attacks and strokes cause almost a million deaths every year in the
U.S. The culprits are blood clots, which choke off the blood supply to vital
organs. Aspirin works on blood cells that cause clots (platelets), making blood
less likely to clot.
So if clots cause cardiovascular disease, and aspirin helps prevents clots,
taking aspirin should be a no-brainer, right?
Not so fast. Aspirin's benefit comes at a cost -- an increased risk of
bleeding, which usually occurs in the stomach, intestine and other
gastrointestinal areas. While most of this type of bleeding is minor and stops
on its own, it can be life-threatening. And there's no sure way to predict if
or when it will happen.
"No medicine is innocuous," says Terry Jacobson, MD, director of the
Office of Health Promotion and Disease Prevention at Emory University in
Atlanta. "Anyone who's not at a high risk of heart disease
has to weigh the benefits against the risks."
The right time to take aspirin is when the benefits -- reducing risk from
heart attacks and strokes -- outweigh the risk of aspirin itself: dangerous
stomach bleeding. This is a decision that can only be made between you and your
doctor, but learning your own risk level can help you feel good about your
Your Heart Disease Risk and Aspirin Therapy
There's little question aspirin has earned its reputation as a powerful
drug. Studies comparing aspirin with placebo including almost 100,000
apparently healthy men and women showed:
In men, daily aspirin therapy cut the risk of a first heart
attack by a third.
In women, daily aspirin therapy reduced the rate of strokes by 17%.
Certain conditions increase the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes. If
you fit in this category, there's little argument: an aspirin a day helps keep
High Risk Men and Women Who May Want Aspirin Therapy
You're considered at high risk if you have:
A prior heart attack or stroke caused by a blood
Known blockages or narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis) in the heart,
neck, or legs
"For people with known heart disease, it's clear that they benefit from
being on an aspirin," says Jacobson, yet "people shouldn't start taking
it on their own." Talking to a doctor first is essential to make sure
you're not at increased risk of bleeding.