For years, it has been known that aspirin helps prevent cardiac complications such as heart attack and stroke. That’s why 30 million Americans routinely take an aspirin.
While it’s true that aspirin helps many of its users, recent studies suggest that some people who are taking a daily dose of aspirin do not reap the same benefits as others using the preventive therapy.
Why use aspirin?
“Heart attacks and strokes are a number-one killer in the United States. Any type of preventive therapy we can prescribe makes a huge impact,” says Dr. Steven R. Steinhubl, associate professor of medicine, University of Kentucky College of Medicine, and director of cardiovascular education and clinical research at the University of Kentucky Linda and Jack Gill Heart Institute.
“I still recommend that my patients use aspirin to prevent heart attacks and stroke. However, I also know there is a large percentage of patients who do not get the needed benefit of this drug. That’s why we are doing research to determine the best way to screen for aspirin resistance,” Steinhubl says.
Although in general a very safe medicine, aspirin is the most common drug that sends patients to a hospital due to adverse effects. Gastrointestinal bleeding is a common condition stemming from aspirin use. Patients taking aspirin should be alert for signs of stomach ulcers and should not take such symptoms lightly.
According to Steinhubl, patients whose stomachs are upset by aspirin often purchase coated forms of the pill. However, he warns that coated pills do not decrease ulcer risk.
“Patients worried that their daily dose of aspirin is not effective should not increase their dosage to compensate,” Steinhubl says. “Taking more aspirin than recommended does not improve its effectiveness and can increase chances of negative side effects.”
Other aspirin concerns
For those the therapy does not benefit, alternatives to aspirin exist for preventing heart attack and stroke.
“By identifying patients who are less responsive to aspirin, we can make sure they are receiving appropriate preventive therapy,” says Steinhubl.
Many patients do not take aspirin daily, as recommended, and therefore limit its effectiveness. Also, over-the-counter pain relievers can make aspirin ineffective. If pain medication is needed, it should be taken at a different time of day than the aspirin therapy. According to Steinhubl, acetaminophen has the least side effects when used with aspirin.
“It is important for patients to talk to their physician before making a decision about aspirin use,” Steinhubl stresses.
Maintain a healthy lifestyle
In addition to preventive medications, the best preventive therapy is maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
“Patients who eat the right foods, get the proper amount of exercise, avoid cigarette smoke, and decrease stress levels stand the best chance of having good heart health during their life span,” Steinhubl says.