You may know people who take a low dose of aspirin every day to lower their risk of a heart attack. Before you go trying it yourself, talk to your doctor. You'll need the go-ahead from someone who knows your medical history. You don't want the medicine to do more harm than good.
“It's weighing the potential benefits against potential risk,” says Byron Cryer, MD, a spokesman for the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA). “Treatment of heart disease to prevent heart attacks, versus the risk of having a gastrointestinal bleed, which is the greatest concern with aspirin.”
Atherosclerosis -- hardening and narrowing of the arteries -- gets a lot of bad press but with good reason. This progressive process silently and slowly blocks arteries, putting blood flow at risk.
Atherosclerosis is the usual cause of heart attacks, strokes, and peripheral vascular disease -- what together are called "cardiovascular disease." Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer in America, with more than 800,000 deaths in 2005.
How does atherosclerosis develop? Who gets it, and...
You shouldn't need to take aspirin every day if you've never had a heart attack and your risk of having one in the next 10 years is low. But your doctor might suggest it if you've had a heart attack or if you have a 10% or higher risk of getting one, Cryer says. One out of every three Americans aged 40 and older take the drug daily to protect their tickers.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends that men 45 to 79 take aspirin every day when the risk of a heart attack outweighs the risk of stomach bleeding. Same goes for women ages 55 to 79. Your doctor will know which risk is greater based on your health history.
“For people who have had a heart attack, have had a stroke, there's a clear recommendation to use aspirin on a daily basis,” says Lawrence Fine, MD, of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “But the issue of whether to use aspirin in primary prevention [if you haven't had a heart attack] is a little bit more complicated.”
Take the Right Amount
For people facing a high risk of getting a heart attack, a low-dose aspirin (81 mg per day) lowers your chances. One baby aspirin each day is probably all you need. But even at the lowest doses, the blood-thinning effects of the medicine can cause bleeding in your stomach.
The drug also affects the hormone-like prostaglandins in your stomach, which help protect your stomach lining from damage. When you take aspirin daily, it can strip them away and that makes your stomach more likely to bleed.