You have probably heard that aspirin prevents heart attacks in people with heart disease. But did you know that it also works in healthy people without pre-existing cardiovascular problems? Research has shown that aspirin is effective in preventing first heart attacks in healthy people who have risk factors for the disease. It does this by staving off blood clots that can trigger heart attacks. But does this mean everyone should be taking aspirin therapy? According to the studies, the answer to that question is no, unless you have risk factors for the disease.
The US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of medical experts, recommends aspirin therapy in the following groups:
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends aspirin therapy for people who are considered to be at "high risk" of having a heart attack. A person is high risk if they have conditions such as established heart disease, peripheral arterial disease, abdominal aortic aneurysm, chronic renal disease, or diabetes. People may also be at high risk they have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and people who smoke.
According to the AHA, major risk factors for heart disease include:
If you think aspirin therapy may be right for you, be sure to discuss the pros and cons with your doctor. The discussion should take into account your calculated risk for heart disease, the known protective effects of aspirin, potential side effects (such as gastrointestinal bleeding), factors that increase your risk of side effects, and your personal preferences about medical care.
American Heart Association
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
Aspirin and heart disease. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/PreventionTreatmentofHeartAttack/Aspirin-and-Heart-Disease_UCM_321714_Article.jsp. Updated Mar 30, 2012. Accessed September 13, 2012.
Aspirin for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/. Updated July 9, 2012. Accessed September 13, 2012.
Aspirin for the prevention of cardiovascular disease: US Preventive Services Task Force recommendation statement. Ann Intern Med. 2009;150(6):396-404. Annals of Internal Medicine website. Available at: http://www.annals.org/content/150/6/396.full. Accessed September 13, 2012.
Boltri JM, Akerson MR, Vogel RL. Aspirin prophylaxis in patients at low risk for cardiovascular disease: a systematic review of all-cause mortality. J Fam Pract. 2002;51:700-704.
Pearson TA, Blair SN, Daniels SR, et al. AHA guidelines for primary prevention of cardiovascular disease and stroke: 2002 update. Circulation. 2002;106:388-391.
Understand your risk of heart attack. American Heart Association website. Available at: http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/Conditions/HeartAttack/UnderstandYourRiskofHeartAttack/Understand-Your-Risk-of-Heart-Attack_UCM_002040_Article.jsp. Updated August 12, 2012. Accessed September 13, 2012.
Last reviewed September 2012 by Brian Randall, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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