Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.See all posts »
Stop and Think before You Stop Your Aspirin
Aspirin is the Rodney Dangerfield of pharmaceuticals. As the iconic comic would say, it can’t "get no respect.” Although many of us think of aspirin as a cheap and effective painkiller, it is also a lifesaving drug for people with heart disease and for those at high risk for cardiovascular disease. By protecting against blood clots, it slashes the risk for heart attacks and strokes, preventing tens of thousands of deaths and protecting against the serious disability that these conditions can cause. And it does all this for just pennies per day.
Aspirin is not for everyone. If you are allergic, obviously it is off the table. Likewise, people with active intestinal bleeding should usually avoid aspirin. And if you are a woman under 65 or a man under 50 with no major risk factors, aspirin is more likely to cause you harm than good, since it can irritate the stomach lining and lead to ulcers. But if you have heart disease—and especially if you have had a heart attack or a cardiac stent (to open a blockage)—aspirin is a critical drug for you.
Statistics tell us that about half of people who should take aspirin eventually stop it. In my experience, this is often because people don’t view aspirin as a necessity, as they might with prescription drugs. It seems too cheap and easy to be important. A recent study from the British Medical Journal examined people with heart disease and evaluated the effect of discontinuing aspirin against doctors’ advice in the three years following a heart attack. The outcome? About a 45 percent increase in risk for heart attacks. If you have a coronary stent and stop the aspirin in the first six to twelve months, the risk is even greater.
If you take aspirin, it’s important to treat it with the respect it deserves. If you find you are having problems taking it, talk it over with your doctor. Often a different medication can be prescribed. It is also vital to let any other doctors you see know that you are taking aspirin, especially if you are contemplating surgery. Since it is a blood thinner, it can increase the likelihood of bleeding problems with surgery. If you have a cardiac stent, never stop the aspirin without consulting your cardiologist first. Your life could depend on it.
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