The Low Down on Low-Dose Aspirin
Aspirin has proven effective in preventing heart attacks because it decreases the tendency of blood to clot. This miraculous benefit from such a common drug has been so widely studied that you may already be taking aspirin for your heart. Dosing yourself without medical advice, however, is not a good idea.
If your risk factors for heart attack are low, you may not need to take aspirin. Your doctor can evaluate your risk by measuring your serum cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and by taking into account your weight, smoking status, family history, and other factors.
Your physician can also help you evaluate your risk for hemorrhagic stroke, which can be slightly increased with regular aspirin use. This is especially relevant for people with high blood pressure because hypertension also increases your risk of stroke. If your blood pressure is high, it is essential to control it before starting an aspirin regimen.
If you are going to take aspirin for its heart-protective properties, you need to know how much to take. A very low dose works as well as a high dose to reduce the risk of heart attack. You can take a baby aspirin (equal to one-quarter aspirin, or 80 mg) every day. Once every 15 days some doctors recommend you take a whole aspirin instead of a regular low dose. This “booster dose” may further reduce the risk of clots, they believe. But even low-dose aspirin in daily doses can pose a risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. So if you are thinking about taking aspirin or already doing so, talk to your physician.
Sources: University of California, Berkeley, Wellness Letter, March 2001
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