Heart Disease and Aspirin Therapy
For more than 100 years, aspirin has been used as a pain reliever. Since the 1970s, aspirin has also been used to prevent and manage heart disease and stroke.
How Does Aspirin Benefit the Heart?
Aspirin benefits the heart in several ways:
- Decreases inflammation. Inflammation is a component of plaque build-up and inflamed plaque is more likely to cause a heart attack or stroke. Aspirin fights the inflammation associated with heart disease by blocking the action of an enzyme called cyclooxygenase. When this enzyme is blocked, the body is less able to produce prostaglandins, which are chemicals that (among other functions) facilitate the inflammatory response.
- Inhibits blood clots. Some prostaglandins in the blood trigger a series of events that cause blood platelets to clump together and form blood clots. Thus, when aspirin inhibits prostaglandins, it inhibits the formation of blood clots as well. Blood clots are harmful because they can clog the arteries supplying the heart muscle and brain, increasing the risk of heart attack and stroke. Aspirin has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke and reduce the short-term risk of death among people suffering from heart attacks.
- Reduces the risk of death. Research has shown that regular aspirin use is associated with a reduction in death from all causes, particularly among the elderly, people with heart disease, and people who are physically unfit.
Who May Benefit From Aspirin Therapy?
- People with coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis anywhere in the body (such as the brain or legs)
- People who have had a heart attack*
- People who have undergone bypass surgery or angioplasty/stent placement to treat heart disease, or have angina (chest pain)
- People who have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or ischemic stroke
* If you are experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, call 911. If you do not have a history of aspirin allergy, emergency personnel may advise that you chew one standard 325-milligram aspirin slowly. It's especially effective if taken within 30 minutes of the onset of symptoms.
What Are the Risks and Benefits of Aspirin Therapy?
Risks of Aspirin Therapy
- Aspirin can increase the risk of stomach ulcers and abdominal bleeding.
- During a stroke, aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding into the brain.
Benefits of Aspirin Therapy
- Aspirin can significantly reduce heart damage during a heart attack and can prevent the occurrence of future heart problems.
- Aspirin can reduce the risk of stroke.
How Much Aspirin Should I Take?
Always speak to your doctor about the benefits and risks of aspirin therapy before beginning a regular regimen.
Recent research indicates an appropriate dose of aspirin is between 80 milligrams and 160 milligrams per day. This is actually half of the standard 325-milligram aspirin commonly prescribed. Many studies show the lower dose works just as well as the higher dose, while reducing the risk of internal bleeding. A baby aspirin contains 81 milligrams. There are similarly lower-dose adult aspirin varieties available. But check with your doctor first to find out what dose is right for you.