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Is an aspirin a day the right choice for you?

Humans have been using aspirin, or at least something like it, for over 3500 years. The ancient world recognized the value of willow bark in treating pain and fevers, and by the late 19th century, scientists and physicians had identified acetylsalicylic acid as the important component and invented a way to chemically synthesize it. However, it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that we fully understood how aspirin works, and we’re still learning new things about its medicinal uses and effect on our bodies.

Today, your Vascular Specialists physician may recommend a regimen of daily low-dose aspirin or, “We may not, depending upon your unique health history,” says Dr. Eugene Tanquilut.

Aspirin belongs to the NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) family of drugs and the active ingredient, acetylsalicylic acid, inhibits the production of postglandins in the bloodstream. By reducing postglandin production, aspirin reduces our reaction to inflammation, fever, and pain while also thinning the blood. Outside of occasional headache or fever treatment, aspirin can also be used as part of a daily regimen to promote better vascular circulation, as the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin cause blood vessels to widen and the blood-thinning properties limit unwanted blockages and improve blood flow.

Of course, reducing unwanted clotting inside the circulatory system also means that wanted clotting—in the event of a cut or serious injury—is also reduced. Prolonged use of aspirin can increase risk of internal bleeding, like stomach ulcers or hemorrhagic stroke. If you’re at risk for a stroke caused by a blood clot, low dose, typically 81 mgs, aspirin therapy may be appropriate to reduce your risk. However, if you’re not at risk or already have clotting disorders, daily aspirin use might actually increase your chance of stroke. Here at Vascular Specialists, we can help determine if a daily, low dose of aspirin makes sense given your personal history of heart and vascular disease compared to your bleeding risks.  

Early research into blood-thinning treatments including aspirin therapy indicated over 20% of patients benefitted. The research, however, can’t specify how much of that benefit is caused by aspirin therapy, or by some other anti-platelet therapy. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot of hard data that proves taking low dose aspirin daily prevents an initial heart attack or stroke. If you do not have a history of cardiovascular disease, the bleeding risks of aspirin therapy are too significant to make daily aspirin a healthy choice. Bleeding risks increase with age; aspirin therapy is not usually recommended over the age of 60.

For patients who have had a heart attack or stroke, there is ample evidence that aspirin therapy helps reduce the risk of a second heart attack or stroke. The FDA recommends low dose aspirin for patients who have heart disease or a history of heart attack or stroke, if their doctor agrees. The Cleveland Clinic’s guidance on aspirin therapy includes patients diagnosed with vascular disease, such as atherosclerosis. For patients with a history of cardiovascular disease, the risk of bleeding might be outweighed by the threat of a second heart attack or stroke.  

Vascular Specialists can help you identify your level of risk and the potential benefits of aspirin therapy. We can also discuss ways to minimize bleeding risk should you decide aspirin therapy makes sense for you.

Are you wondering if aspirin therapy if right for you? Do not make that decision without consulting your doctor. While aspirin is a useful over-the-counter medication for the occasional headache or pain, taking it daily can have serious health consequences when not needed.

Call 815-824-4406 or click here to make an appointment. We are always happy to help.

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