Between 5,000 and 10,000 lives would be saved every year if more people took an aspirin when they experienced chest pain or other heart attack symptoms, says the American Heart Association.
"It doesn't matter what brand, just as long as aspirin is used," says Dr. Charles Hennekens, chief of preventive medicine at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an internationally recognized expert on heart disease.
Aspirin prevents blood platelets from sticking together and forming clots. These clots can block blood vessels, causing heart attacks and strokes. The Food and Drug Administration has approved labels that say aspirin can help people who have survived a heart attack, but the American Heart Association recommends that anyone with hardening of the arteries take a low-dose aspirin daily, regardless of having had a heart attack.
If you feel as though you are having a heart attack, Dr. Hennekens recommends taking a full aspirin tablet (325 milligrams) to get a fast effect. Patients who already have had a heart attack and want to prevent another one should take a baby aspirin (about 100 milligrams) a day, he says.
Taking a daily aspirin, however, is no substitute for a healthy lifestyle. The best way to avoid heart disease is to eat a low-fat diet, to get regular exercise, and not to smoke. If you are a candidate for taking a daily aspirin, check with your doctor to see what dose would work best for you.