February has been designated as American Heart Month for the last several years. In past February articles, I’ve discussed general topics about taking care of our hearts. Things like exercising more, eating healthier, drinking less, seeing your doctor quickly for any concerns.
This year, I’m going to discuss a more specific topic that you may have seen in the media. I’ve also been asked about this frequently over the last few months. The topic is aspirin.
The compound, acetylsalicylic acid, has been around since 1853. Bayer improved its production and named it Aspirin in 1899. It is used as a pain reliever, fever reducer and to treat inflammation. This article will deal with aspirin as a treatment or preventative for heart disease.
For years we’ve been told to take aspirin at the first signs of a heart attack. Paramedics will often provide this treatment on the scene of someone having chest pain before transporting them to the hospital. There is good evidence that this makes a difference and improves a person’s chances of surviving a cardiac event.
The recent controversy revolves around using aspirin daily to prevent cardiac events. This is called primary prevention—preventing the first occurrence of an event. For years, the recommendation has been for older folks to take an aspirin a day to prevent a heart attack. That is no longer the case. A recent analysis of multiple similar studies has shown that the risk outweighs the benefit of taking an aspirin a day. The main risk is for bleeding from the stomach. Let’s be clear, this is for people who have no risk for cardiovascular disease. That is, no history of hypertension, heart disease, stroke, or diabetes.
There is still benefit of using aspirin for secondary prevention. This is for patients with high blood pressure, a prior heart attack or stroke, known coronary disease, and for those diabetics over 50.
All of this may be a lot of information, but it is important given the recently released study. The key is to discuss the issues with your primary physician so that you can make an informed decision. Your doctor can discuss how these study results and recommendations apply to you and help reduce your risks.
As always, I need to recommend that we all work on living a healthier lifestyle. That includes moving more and sitting less; eating more modest amounts of healthier foods; and drinking less alcohol. All of those things will help you lead a longer, healthier and happier life.