An Aspirin a Day?

Can taking aspirin help prevent heart disease?

Blood clots and inflammation of the arteries contribute to heart disease. Aspirin helps prevent heart attacks and some strokes by making platelets less sticky and thus less likely to form clots, and it's possible that the drug's antiinflammatory powers may also be beneficial. That's why many doctors prescribe a 325-mg adult-strength tablet every other day or an 81-mg baby aspirin a day for people with heart disease.

When taken within 24 hours after symptoms of a heart attack appear, aspirin also significantly cuts down on subsequent nonfatal heart attacks, stroke, and vascular death during the next five weeks.

Recent studies have clashed over whether aspirin is safe and effective for preventing initial bouts with heart disease, especially in people who have few risk factors. The ongoing Women's Health Study may answer questions about the benefits of aspirin for women.

While aspirin appears to decrease the risk of ischemic strokes -- the most common kind of stroke -- a multi-study analysis showed it raised the risk for hemorrhagic stroke when daily doses totaling 75-413 mg were taken. Overall, that still adds up to a decline in the total number of strokes.

Before taking aspirin regularly, discuss with your doctor whether there are any risks -- such as high blood pressure, high risk for hemorrhagic stroke, bleeding problems, an ulcer, or potentially dangerous drug interactions -- that might outweigh its benefits for you.