Chances are, you’ve seen the commercials or heard the widely distributed advice: Take an aspirin daily to reduce your risk of heart disease. But is aspirin really as beneficial for heart health as popular opinion would have you believe? To investigate this claim, let’s look at how aspirin works in your body and discuss who should be taking it—and who shouldn’t.
The most common use for aspirin is as an anti-inflammatory or pain reliever. In fact, for many years this was considered the only use for aspirin; it wasn’t until the 1970s that the connection between aspirin and heart health was discovered.
Aspirin’s blood-thinning properties help prevent blood clots from forming. Since most heart attacks and strokes are caused by blood clots blocking the blood vessels that travel to your heart or brain, taking an aspirin to help prevent heart attacks seemingly makes perfect sense—and is even recommended by the American Heart Association. However, as with many health-conscious choices you can make each day, taking an aspirin for improved heart health isn’t quite that simple.
For many, the potential benefits of taking aspirin far outweigh the side effects, but there are significant side effects worth considering. Aspirin has been known to increase users’ risk of stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding. It also doesn’t tend to react well with alcohol and isn’t recommended for people who drink alcohol regularly. Further, as with all blood thinners, taking aspirin can make it more difficult to stop bleeding if you are wounded.
It’s also important to note that the benefits of taking aspirin certainly aren’t instantaneous. In fact, it can take at least five and up to 10 years for the benefits of daily use to begin having an effect on your health.
As with all medications, the final verdict boils down to this: Talk to your doctor. If you are someone who is at high risk for a heart attack or stroke, your doctor may prescribe a daily low dose of aspirin. This is an especially common treatment plan for people over the age of 50 who smoke, have high blood pressure, have high cholesterol or have been diagnosed with diabetes. A daily aspirin dose is also commonly prescribed for patients who have already experienced a heart attack, in an effort to prevent an attack from happening again.
Of course, aspirin alone isn’t going to make a significant impact on your heart health if you aren’t taking other steps to take care of your body. Proper nutrition, a safe and consistent exercise routine and consistent checkups with your doctor are all an important part of the larger health equation.
While taking aspirin can benefit your heart health, don’t begin any medical regimen without first discussing it with your doctor. He or she can make a recommendation that takes your entire health history into account, so you’ll know you’re doing the right thing for your body.
Want to make an appointment to talk to your doctor about aspirin for heart health? Visit the FollowMyHealth patient portal today.