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Can aspirin prevent heart attacks?
By Nawang Sherpa, MD, Franciscan Health System
You remember the old saying, “An apple a day, keeps the doctor away.”
For some people, a low-dose aspirin a day can help lower their risk of heart attacks.
For more than a century, aspirin has been used as a pain reliever for headaches and body aches. Since the 1970s, physicians have been prescribing low-dose aspirin to patients as a way to help prevent and manage heart disease and stroke.
Aspirin combats pain and inflammation associated with heart disease by blocking an enzyme called “cyclooxygenase.” This causes the body to reduce its production of a substance called “prostaglandin” that triggers pain in the body. “Prostagladin” also causes blood platelets to form clots, and aspirin helps inhibits the formation of those clots. Blood clots can clog arteries that supply blood to the heart and increase a person’s risk of heart disease and stroke.
Aspirin therapy is not for everyone, and there are some side effects, including increased risk of ulcers and abdominal bleeding. Aspirin therapy may benefit patients who:
• Suffered a heart attack or stroke
• Have had a stent place in a coronary artery
• Had bypass surgery
• Suffer from pain due to coronary artery disease
• Are at high risk for having a heart attack
• A man over 50 with diabetes
• A woman over 60 with diabetes
A daily regime of low-dose aspirin can significantly reduce your risk of heart damage during a heart attack and reduce your risk of stroke. It’s important to always discuss the risks and benefits of any therapy with your medical provider. You also want to be sure to discuss any allergies and talk about other prescriptions you may be taking before introducing any new medications.
Most heart attacks occur when the blood supply to part of your heart or brain is blocked. Aspirin helps to “thin” the blood and prevent blood clots from forming. Who knew that a pill we take to stop a headache could also help stop a heart attack?
Nawang Sherpa, MD, is a family medicine physician with Franciscan Medical Clinic in Federal Way. Call (888) 825-3227.