ASPIRIN AND HEART ATTACKS

Aspirin and heart attacks are often discussed together as part of a prevention program. But research now shows that children's aspirin may also reduce the risk of cancer and perhaps osteoporosis.


In the past, aspirin and heart attacks have been linked only when a person has already had a heart attack or stroke or if they had a high risk of either condition. We have known for many years that internal bleeding may occur with too much aspirin but now there is substantial research that shows aspirin can reduce the risk of cancer. So who should take daily aspirin therapy?


HOW ASPIRIN WORKS

Aspirin therapy reduces the clumping action of platelets. This clotting action is useful when we have a wound but can block an artery that is already narrowed from atherosclerosis-the buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries. If a blood clot blocks an artery and prevents blood flow to the heart or brain, it may cause a heart attack or stroke.


ASPIRIN THERAPY IS SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT FOR WOMEN AND MEN

Aspirin can reduce the risk of heart attacks in men and women of all ages. But while aspirin can prevent both a first and second heart attack in men, aspirin plays a slightly different role in women.

Aspirin can prevent a first stroke in women of all ages, but

  • for women younger than 65, aspirin can prevent a second heart attack
  • for women older than 65, aspirin can prevent a first and second heart attack

The risk of bleeding with daily aspirin therapy is about the same in both sexes.


ASPIRIN AND HEART ATTACKS ARE ASSOCIATED THROUGH RISK

Doctors will usually assess your risk of heart disease and stroke before recommending daily aspirin therapy. These risk factors include:


  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure (systolic pressure >140 or a diastolic pressure >90)
  • Total cholesterol level higher than 240 mg/dL (6.22 mmol/L)
  • Low-density lipoprotein ("bad") cholesterol level higher than 130 mg/dL (3.37 mmol/L)
  • Lack of exercise
  • Diabetes
  • Excessive stress
  • Alcoholism
  • Family history of a stroke or heart attack

If you have strong risk factors but have not had a heart attack or stroke, you may benefit from taking an aspirin every day. But you will want to consult with your doctor both on the risks of taking daily aspirin as well as the potential benefits of reduced cancer risk.


Consultation with your doctor about the risks of aspirin and heart attacks may also include a discussion about cancer prevention.


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