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An Aspirin a Day

A small pill that packs a powerful punch

The small, white pill we know as aspirin has been around for decades. Originating from salicylic acid, this nonnarcotic drug slows the body’s ability to clot blood and desensitizes the nerves responsible for sensing pain, making the pill useful for relieving headaches, body aches, inflammation, and fever, as well as protecting you from heart attack and stroke. In addition, new research is linking aspirin with a decreased risk of Alzheimer’s disease and cancers of the colon, stomach, esophagus, and prostate.

Since this inexpensive, readily available medication offers such wonderful health benefits, shouldn’t everyone be taking it? The answer is clearly no. Like all drugs, aspirin comes with both benefits and risks. Before taking aspirin on a regular basis, be sure to talk with your doctor.

Are You Eligible?

Taking an aspirin a day or every other day lowers the risk of heart disease by 28 percent for people considered at high risk for the disease. This includes people with a history (either themselves or in their family) of heart attack, stroke, or angina, those with multiple risk factors for developing heart disease (high cholesterol, high blood pressure, or smokers), and those with diabetes.

On the other hand, if you’re younger than 40 and in good health, a daily aspirin may do more harm than good. The question of whether or not to take aspirin becomes more difficult to answer, however, for those with a family history of dementia or colon cancer. In this situation, it’s important to carefully consider the pros and cons before making a decision.

Individuals with an allergy to aspirin, bleeding stomach ulcers, or a bleeding disorder should not take a daily aspirin.

What’s the Danger?

While aspirin offers big benefits, it comes with big risks. Your stomach and intestines are lined with a protective layer that acts as a buffer from your stomach’s harsh acids. Taking aspirin for an extended period of time can slowly damage this layer and increase the risk of bleeding in your stomach and small intestine. In fact, people who take an aspirin on a regular basis are twice as likely to develop a bleeding ulcer or other type of bleeding in their gastrointestinal tract.

People on aspirin therapy should only drink alcohol in moderation as heavy drinking while taking a daily aspirin increases your risk of internal bleeding. Since aspirin thins the blood and prevents blood clots, it can hinder the healing of blood vessels and increase the likelihood of bleeding in your brain and hemorrhagic stroke. Always tell your doctor and dentist if you’re taking aspirin. Aspirin may cause excessive bleeding during surgical work and it may increase your risk of bleeding as it interacts with other commonly used drugs and dietary supplements.

People who take a daily aspirin to protect from heart attack should never stop aspirin therapy cold turkey. Doing so may have the opposite effect and cause a blood clot that could lead to a heart attack. Talk with your doctor before deciding to make changes to your medications.

What’s a Safe Dose?

When the potential benefits of a daily aspirin outweigh the possible risk, the next consideration is just how much to take. It’s faulty reasoning to think the more aspirin you take, the more protection you have against heart disease, cancer, and dementia. No medication works that way. There’s a fine line between the amount that’s safe and effective and the dose that may lead to complications, so be careful. When it comes to aspirin, a baby aspirin (81 milligrams) may be just as effective at preventing heart disease as a regular strength 325 mg dose. Talk with your doctor about what dose is best for you.

 

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Allan Alguire

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