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Heart Disease Health Center

Aspirin Therapy: Right for Your Heart?

Daily aspirin helps many, but age, gender, and heart disease risks play a part. Is it right for you?
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Your Heart Disease Risk and Aspirin Therapy continued...

Your doctor can calculate your cardiovascular disease risks based on the following factors:

  • Your medical history
  • Age
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • Total and "good" cholesterol levels
  • History of heart disease in close relatives

If you know your blood pressure and cholesterol, you can calculate your own 10-year risk of serious cardiovascular disease using the same tool that doctors use. Called the "Framingham risk calculator," it's available online at: http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/atpiii/calculator.asp?usertype=prof

If the benefits do outweigh the risks for you, how much aspirin should you take? Talk to your doctor first. The standard dose is one baby aspirin (81 milligrams) a day. Higher doses are no more effective, and can cause more stomach upset.

Aspirin: Different Benefits for Men and Women

When it comes to heart attacks and strokes, men and women are not created equal. Women develop cardiovascular disease later than men -- usually after menopause, and often well into their 70s. Their disease symptoms and survival can be very different from men.

For many women, this difference means the risk of cardiovascular disease doesn't justify aspirin until later in life. However, the risk of bleeding while on aspirin also goes up with age, making the choice more complicated.

And women are different from men when it comes to the response to aspirin as well, says Nanette Wenger, MD, spokesperson for the American Heart Association. Based on study data:

  • For healthy men aspirin seems to prevent heart attacks, but not strokes.
  • For healthy women under 65, aspirin prevents strokes, but not heart attacks.
  • For healthy women over 65, aspirin appears to prevent heart attacks similarly to men.

In general, for healthy women under 65, an aspirin isn't recommended, says Wenger. Again, it's best to talk to your doctor.

Most of all, it's important to recognize that taking aspirin doesn't reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease nearly as much as good old-fashioned measures like losing weight, exercising, quitting smoking, and controlling blood pressure and cholesterol. These measures can lower the risk of serious disease by up to 80% according to some studies -- leaving aspirin in the dust.

Yet aspirin is a valuable tool for people who want to do everything they can to prevent heart attacks and stroke. After seeing her doctor, Sandra Rose decided she was one of them. She decided to stay on her aspirin, even though her cardiovascular risk was already low. "I wanted to get it even lower," she said, despite the risk of bleeding. Knowing the benefits, and the risks, let her make an informed choice.

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