Does an Aspirin a Day Reduce My Chances of Heart Attack?
Steven Brown, MD, is Program Director of the Banner – University Medical Center Phoenix Famiily Medicine Residency in Arizona.
Question: I was told that an aspirin a day reduces my risk of heart disease. Is that true?
Answer: Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. The best ways to prevent heart disease are to eat well, avoid smoking, maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly. There is also good evidence that, in some patients, 81 milligrams of aspirin daily (a “baby” aspirin) can prevent serious heart events.
There are both potential harms and benefits with aspirin therapy. Possible harms from aspirin therapy include bleeding, especially in the stomach. For any patient, the likelihood of benefit (prevention of heart events) from aspirin therapy increases with their number of heart attack risk factors. These risk factors include known coronary artery disease, increasing age (over 65 years old), high blood pressure, diabetes, strong family history for heart disease and smoking.
The benefit of aspirin therapy in otherwise healthy people is quite modest. One recent analysis studied men and women with no known heart disease but some risk factors. The results of the study showed that those who had taken aspirin daily for six years were protected from heart attack, but about the same number had a bleeding side effect from this medication.
The United States Preventive Services Task Force (an independent group of experts) says that many men age 45 to 79 and many women age 55 to 79 are likely to benefit from daily aspirin therapy. However, this is an important topic to discuss with your physician to understand your potential risks and benefits.
You and your doctor can use an online risk calculator... to start the discussion.