2005-01-20 / Savvy Senior



I had a mild heart attack recently and my doctor recommended I start taking an aspirin everyday. That’s it, nothing more. It seems amazing to me that with all the new expensive medications available today there would be other drugs that we should take instead of a simple aspirin.

Could you explain how aspirin works and why so many of us are being told to take it?

Heart Attack Harry

Dear Harry,

Funny how one little pill is capable of doing so much. Would you believe that back in the 1920s, the advertising campaign for Bayer aspirin assured consumers that the drug would not affect the heart. Today, it’s clear that it does affect the heart, but in a good way.

An Aspirin a Day

When aspirin was developed more than 100 years ago, it was used as a pain reliever for headaches and other minor aches and pains. Now, more than 20 million Americans take it daily, but primarily for its positive affects on cardiovascular disease. Aspirin helps the heart by preventing blood clots and reducing inflammation of the arteries, both of which can contribute to heart attack and stroke.

Here are the health problems aspirin can help with:

• Heart attack: If you’ve had a heart attack, aspirin can help reduce the chances of a second attack and can reduce the damaging effects of a heart attack while it’s in progress. Those at risk of heart disease should talk to their doctor about taking aspirin to prevent a first heart attack.

• Stroke: Aspirin can help protect people from strokes and mini-strokes.

• Arthritis: Aspirin is sometimes used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis and other rheumatological diseases.

• Other benefits: Researchers have found that aspirin may also reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, Hodgkin’s disease, colon cancer, prostate cancer, adult leukemia and Ahzheimer’s disease.

Savvy Tip: Between 10 and 30 percent of heart patients are “aspirin resistant,” which means it doesn’t have the blood-thinning effect that it has in most people. Ask your doctor to be checked.

Not for Everyone

Although aspirin may seem like a wonder drug, it does have several possible side effects. Be sure to talk to your doctor before you start taking aspirin, who can also recommend how much to take, which usually ranges from 81 mgs (a baby aspirin), up to a standard 325 mg tablet a day.

Here are some possible side effects of aspirin:

• Stomach irritation. Aspirin can irritate the stomach lining and cause heartburn, nausea and over time, more serious consequences like internal bleeding, ulcers and holes in the stomach or intestines. Heavy alcohol users may be at risk of stomach bleeding and liver damage.

• Ringing in the ears. High doses of aspirin may cause ringing in the ears and hearing loss, which usually disappears when the dose is lowered.

• Allergy. According to the Mayo Clinic, two out of every 1,000 people are allergic to aspirin.

Allergic symptoms may include facial swelling and sometimes asthma attacks.

• Excessive bleeding. The same quality that gives aspirin its cardiovascular benefits, can also cause excessive bleeding, including the possibility of bleeding in the brain.

• Reye syndrome. Aspirin should not be used for children when they have flu-like symptoms or chicken pox because of the risk of this disease.

Aspirin and Ibuprofen

While aspirin reduces pain from inflammation, in addition to helping the heart, it isn’t as effective against other types of pain and soreness as other over-the-counter painkillers. So, if you’re taking a daily aspirin to help keep your heart healthy, don’t take ibuprofen too. Studies show that taking the painkiller ibuprofen, the main ingredient in Advil, Motrin and Nuprin, may chemically interfere with the anti-clotting benefits of aspirin. However, the painkiller acetaminophen (Tylenol) does not interfere with the good effects of aspirin.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org. Jim Miller is a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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