Risks associated with the use of aspirin to lessen the severity of a heart attack may outweigh benefits.
Dr. Patrick Withrow, cardiologist and chief medical officer at Western Baptist Hospital, said the decision to take a maintenance dose of aspirin should be based on age, family history, risk factors and a doctor’s advice to a patient. Risk factors include obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, prior heart attacks or stroke and age.
Withrow said aspirin decreases risk and severity of heart attack in two ways. It reduces the number of platelets in the blood that form around arterial plaques causing a blockage. It also reduces inflammation in arteries causing them to swell.
Risks of taking aspirin include an allergy to the drug and its tendency to cause an upset stomach to ulcers. Withrow said a small dose of 81 milligrams was usually the advised level.
“How much is good? I usually say a baby aspirin is good and usually doesn’t hurt the stomach,” Withrow said. “Buffered is even better. Food is a natural buffer so I usually recommend a patient take an aspirin on top of their largest meal.”
Withrow said aspirin is a good option to use with other blood thinners, especially after a patient receives a stent.
“In the general population, aspirin might have a 10 to 20 percent reduction in heart attacks or stroke,” Withrow said. “It also increases the risk of gastrointestinal problems by 30 percent.”
In lieu of aspirin therapy, Withrow recommends patients improve their diets to reduce fat intake, exercise and control their blood pressure and diabetes.
“What we’ve found to be the case is it doesn’t really reduce mortality, but it does decrease risks and severity of heart attack and stroke in some people,” Withrow said.