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Balance The Benefits And Risks Of Aspirin For Heart Health

Balance The Benefits And Risks Of Aspirin For Heart Health

ASK DOCTOR K | October 15, 2015 11:17 am

DEAR DOCTOR K: Heart disease runs in my family, and my doctor thinks I should take low-dose aspirin even though I don’t have heart disease now. What do you think?

DEAR READER: Your question seems simple enough, and I wish I had a simple answer. The problem is that aspirin, like virtually all medical treatments, has benefits and risks, and they are different for one person than for another. The main risk of aspirin is bleeding.

For some people, the decision to take aspirin is easy. If a person has coronary artery disease — blockage of the arteries of the heart — he or she should take aspirin. The same is true if someone has had the type of stroke caused by a blood clot (called an ischemic stroke). In these cases, the benefits from aspirin are far greater than the risks (unless someone has an allergy to aspirin, or a bleeding tendency).

Coronary artery disease (CAD) causes heart attacks, but many people who have this disease have never had a heart attack. If their doctor has told them that they have CAD, they should take aspirin — even if they have never had a heart attack. Why? Because it will greatly reduce their risk of ever having one.