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You've probably read or heard about studies linking aspirin to a reduced risk of heart attack. And indeed, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the use of aspirin, unless it's contraindicated, in patients who have experienced a heart attack, unstable angina (Read about "Angina"), ischemic stroke or transient ischemic attacks (Read about "Stroke") in order to prevent a recurrence.
AHA also says that if someone thinks they're having a heart attack (Read about "Heart Attack"), they should first call 911 and then they may be told to take an aspirin (again, only if it's not contraindicated because of an allergy to aspirin or some other condition that precludes the use of aspirin). If you suspect that a stroke is occurring, it is not a good idea to take an aspirin, because if the stroke is caused by a ruptured blood vessel, aspirin could make the problem worse.
The occasional use of aspirin for headache or pain relief isn't a problem for most healthy adults. But, as with many medications (including over-the-counter ones), aspirin is a powerful drug. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says aspirin can potentially cause stomach upset, ulcers, nausea or heartburn. (Read about "Indigestion" "Ulcers" "Heartburn") FDA says aspirin may also be unsuitable for people with chronic health problems including:
Finally, aspirin can interact with other medications a person may be taking, a potential risk that exists for any drug, both over-the-counter and prescription. The National Institute on Aging says that because people are statistically likely to be taking more medications as they age, this is especially important to remember as we get older (Read about "Drug Interaction Precautions"). For these reasons, it's important to talk with a doctor first before considering the use of aspirin on any kind of a regular basis.
Aspirin inhibits the production of hormone-like substances that control a variety of bodily functions. According to the FDA, because of the way it works, aspirin can also prevent the formation of blood clots. Since blood clots can block the flow of blood to the heart, triggering a heart attack, scientists originally wanted to see if using aspirin could help to prevent heart attacks. And indeed, the National Institutes of Health say studies have linked the use of small doses of aspirin with a lower risk of heart attack.
However, studies have also found that aspirin may not have a similarly beneficial effect on the risk of overall cardiovascular disease. (Read about "The Heart & Cardiovascular System") There are some new studies that indicate aspirin could help some people who suffer strokes caused by clots. (Read about "Stroke") However, according to the National Heart Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), higher doses of aspirin can increase your risk of stroke from a hemorrhage.
As a result, while studies on aspirin and heart attack are encouraging, NHLBI says you should talk with your doctor before using aspirin regularly to prevent heart attack. Only a doctor who knows your complete medical history can determine if the benefits outweigh the risks.
If you are taking aspirin and you must have any surgical procedures, even simple ones or dental extraction, you should let the surgeon or dentist know this. It is also important to avoid alcohol if you are taking aspirin.
If a doctor does determine that a person can be helped by regular use of aspirin, it's also important to remember that, while studies on aspirin and heart attack are promising, aspirin is not a cure-all for heart disease. In addition, AHA points out that it's not a substitute for healthy lifestyle changes that can reduce your risk of heart disease, including diet, weight control, exercise, and not smoking. Although many people might welcome a "magic pill" that could take the place of these lifestyle changes, developing healthy habits is still essential to maintaining our heart health now and in the future.
All Concept Communications material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.
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