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Should You Take A Daily Aspirin?

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Dear Dr. Levister: What are the benefits and risks of taking a daily aspirin? L.C.

Dear L.C.: Taking what Dr. Oz calls the “magic pill” for heart health is not as easy a decision as it sounds. Daily aspirin therapy may lower your risk of heart attack and stroke, but daily aspirin therapy isn't for everyone. Is it right for you?

You should consider daily aspirin therapy only if you've had a heart attack or stroke, or you have a high risk of either. And then, only take aspirin with your doctor's approval.

Although taking an occasional aspirin or two is safe for most adults to use for headaches, body aches or fever, daily use of aspirin can have serious side effects, including internal bleeding.

Aspirin interferes with your blood's clotting action. When you bleed, your blood's clotting cells, called platelets, build up at the site of your wound. The platelets help form a plug that seals the opening in your blood vessel to stop bleeding.

But this clotting can also happen within the vessels that supply your heart and brain with blood. If your blood vessels are already narrowed from atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries — a fatty deposit in your vessel can burst. Then, a blood clot can quickly form and block the artery. This prevents blood flow to the heart or brain and causes a heart attack or stroke. Aspirin therapy reduces the clumping action of platelets — possibly preventing heart attack and stroke.

Very low doses of aspirin — 75 milligrams (mg), which is less than a standard baby aspirin — can be effective. Your doctor may prescribe a daily dose anywhere from 81 mg — the amount in a baby aspirin — to 325 mg (regular strength).

African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians, native Hawaiians and some Asian Americans have greater rates of severe high blood pressure and a higher risk of heart disease and stroke. This is partly due to higher rates of obesity, diabetes, smoking and stress. Most people with a strong family history of heart disease have one or more other risk factors. Just as you can't control your age, sex and race, you can't control your family history. Therefore, it's even more important to treat and control any other risk factors you have.

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