Aspirin is well-known for its pain-relieving abilities, but it also can have dramatic and life-saving effects on your heart health.
Dr. Shereif Rezkalla, a Marshfield Clinic Health System cardiologist, said we have known about aspirin’s heart benefits since the 1970s when a landmark study showed the drug’s ability to reduce repeated heart attacks, hospitalizations and death.
Aspirin’s pain-relieving legacy dates a bit further back, as in 2,000 years ago. Willow bark contains properties similar to aspirin, and even 2 millennia ago, people chewed willow bark to relieve pain, inflammation and fever.
Who benefits from aspirin?
“Anybody who has a previous history of coronary heart disease or heart attack should be on a daily aspirin regimen,” Rezkalla said. “Even men between ages 50 and 60, with no previous heart trouble, benefit from taking daily aspirin to prevent heart complications.”
Rezkalla said as men age, particularly past 70, they are at greater risk of internal bleeding from taking aspirin. In women, there are benefits to taking aspirin if they have had previous heart problems, but it is not clear women benefit from aspirin if they have no previous history of heart disease.
For prevention, take aspirin in the evening
Rezkalla said, while opinions vary, his advice is to take aspirin in the evening if your goal is prevention of a heart attack.
“I personally prefer the evening, because studies show that the most common time for heart attacks is the early morning hours,” Rezkalla said. “If you take it in the evening, by early morning the aspirin is already absorbed in your system and you are better protected.”
Marshfield Clinic Health System is currently involved in a national study looking into whether baby aspirin or adult aspirin is better for prevention of repeat heart attacks.
Even if you think you are actively experiencing a heart attack, aspirin can help.
“Right after you call 911, take aspirin if you think you’re having a heart attack,” Rezkalla said. “If you take baby, chewable aspirin, it will absorb much faster and start helping you faster than just swallowing aspirin.”
If you’re concerned about your cardiovascular health, talk with your provider.