Aspirin and Heart Disease
Studies have shown that aspirin can help in preventing heart attacks; however, it is not right for everyone. For some people, the risks associated with aspirin (such as increased risk for gastrointestinal bleeding) outweigh any benefits. Recommendations on heart disease and aspirin suggest that, in general, people with a history of heart attack, unstable angina, or ischemic stroke may benefit from taking aspirin.
In the early 1990s, strong research showed that aspirin could help in treating heart attacks. In fact, this heart disease "wonder drug" is now given to all patients who arrive at the hospital emergency department with a suspected heart attack, because aspirin acts to thin the blood and lessen the size of a blood clot during a heart attack.
But what about preventing a heart attack or heart disease with aspirin? The answer is: it depends. There are certain groups of people for whom taking aspirin makes sense; however, it does not make sense for everyone. In some situations, the risk of aspirin outweighs the benefits.
RecommendationsThe American Heart Association recommends aspirin for people in the following groups:
- People with a history of a previous heart attack, unstable angina, ischemic stroke, and transient ischemic attack (TIA) (also known as a mini stroke)
- People with high risk for a heart attack (see Heart Attack Risk).
Aspirin is not recommended for everyone, because there are possible risks with aspirin, including an increased risk for gastrointestinal bleeding and a slight increase in a certain type of stroke (hemorrhagic stroke) caused by bleeding in the brain.
Make sure to talk with your doctor before trying to prevent heart disease with aspirin. Your healthcare provider will weigh the possible benefits against the risks associated with aspirin. Before your healthcare provider recommends aspirin to prevent a heart attack, he or she will consider a number of factors, including your:
- Current heart disease risk factors
- Personal history of heart disease
- Other medications.
Also, regardless of whether you are taking aspirin, people should adopt the well-proven heart disease prevention approaches. These ways to prevent heart disease include:
- Being more physically active (see Heart Disease and Exercise)
- Maintaining a healthy weight (see Weight and Heart Disease)
- Eating a well-balanced, heart-healthy diet (see Diet and Heart Disease)
- Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol (see Lowering Blood Pressure or Lowering Cholesterol)
- Preventing or managing diabetes (see Diabetes Treatment)
- Not smoking (see Smoking and Heart Disease).