Preventing Heart Attack with Aspirin

Is aspirin therapy for everyone? Patients at high risk for heart disease can benefit from taking a low-dose aspirin tablet. The American Heart Association recommends people at high risk of heart attack should take a daily low-dose of aspirin (if told to by their healthcare provider) and that heart attack survivors regularly take low-dose aspirin.

But why aspirin? “We know that aspirin is the wonder drug in many ways because it acts in so many different mechanisms in the body, but mainly that it’s an anti-inflammatory mechanism,” explains  Steven Henao, M.D., chief vascular surgeon of New Mexico Heart Institute/Lovelace Medical Group.

Inflammation plays a key role in heart attack, according to Dr. Henao. “The inside of the blood vessel gets inflamed and a blood clot may form. That’s when the blood flow to the heart stops. Aspirin helps prevent the ease of clotting of the blood,” explains Dr. Henao. “It works on the blood’s clotting cells, called platelets. Platelets sticking together are one of the first steps of a blood clot, so aspirin makes it slicker. It’s kind of like the motor oil in your car.”

Dr. Henao prescribes daily aspirin to his patients, but only those who fall under certain risk factors.

“Taking an anti-inflammatory in a small dose of aspirin has tremendous benefits, especially for smokers, diabetics and those over the age of 50,” says Dr. Henao. “It’s one of the medicines that is extremely cheap, very available and assuming you don’t have an allergy to the drug and fall within the age range and have risk factors, it’s something I prescribe to every one of my patients.”

Your health care provider may suggest daily aspirin therapy if you've already had a heart attack or stroke, or if you're at high risk of having one.

The possible side effects of daily aspirin therapy include gastrointestinal bleeding, hemorrhagic stroke or allergic reaction.

Talk with your health care provider to see if you are a candidate for aspirin therapy. Never start aspirin on your own and do not take aspirin if you think you are having a heart attack. Call 911 immediately or seek immediate medical attention. To make an appointment with a New Mexico Heart Institute/Lovelace Medical Group provider, call 505.841.1000.