Is it the miracle drug?

I have a bottle of chewable baby aspirin in my medicine cabinet. Every now and then I’ll pop one in my mouth just because it might be helpful in reducing my chances of having a heart attack or a stroke. I realized that this was probably not helpful and possibly harmful.  I decided to look into the issue of whether or not people who do not have stroke or heart attack risks and are not under a doctor’s instructions to take an aspirin a day should or shouldn’t be taking aspirin for anything other than a headache or aches and pains. Aspirin is such a common household medication that many people, including me, view it as harmless, potentially very helpful, and something that can be self-prescribed.

One in five people take an aspirin daily. It is believed that in some cases a daily regimen of aspirin can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, and now there is some evidence that it might also lower the chances of developing colorectal, stomach and esophageal cancers. Since coronary artery disease is currently the number one killer of people in the United States, it’s not surprising that many people are trying to take preventative measures. It should go without saying that anyone considering any new medication regimen should first consult his or her doctor.

Aspirin is not without its downsides. It is a blood thinner that can irritate and reduce protection of the stomach and increase the risk of stomach bleeding.  Developing a perforated ulcer or bleeding in the G.I. tract kills more people a year than cervical cancer or asthma. If you are at risk for developing cardiovascular disease within the next ten years the benefits of aspirin outweigh the risks.  There is an app that will help you evaluate your risk called the ASCVD Risk Estimator that was developed by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology (see below for links).  The Mayo Clinic feels that for those under the age of 50 and over the age of 70, more research is needed to determine the risks and benefits of taking a daily dose of aspirin.

WebMD reports that recent research has found a possible link between aspirin and preventing Alzheimer’s disease. Doctors are wary about proclaiming aspirin a wonder drug.  Developing ways to minimize the risks of aspirin would make it a wonder drug. One interesting result of a major study undertaken in 2006 found that aspirin use affected men and women differently. For men with moderate or high risk of heart disease or stroke, aspirin use lowered the risk of heart attacks by 32% but it did not lower the risk of stroke at all. For women who are at moderate or high risk of heart disease or stroke aspirin use didn’t lower the risk of heart attack at all but lowered the risk of stroke by 17%.

The bottom line seems to be that you should get advice from your doctor before coming to any conclusions on your own about daily aspirin use.  In general, if you have any of the following health issues you should talk to your doctor sooner rather than later.

For men, risk factors for developing a heart attack include:

  • Age (higher as you get older)
  • High blood pressure
  • Cholesterol level (low good cholesterol and high bad cholesterol)
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking

For women, risk factors for stroke include:

  • Age (higher as you get older)
  • High blood pressure
  • Thickening of the heart walls due to high blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Smoking

From Every Day Health.com

Finally, what we all should be doing to reduce our risk of stroke and heart disease is exercising, not smoking and watching our diets.

ASCVD Risk Estimator for iOS

ASCVD Risk Estimator for Android

Photo Credit – www.medicalnewstoday.com