Medical experts have encouraged older adults and people with a risk of having a heart attack and/or stroke to take a low dose of aspirin daily. However, this guidance is being revised.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which has encouraged some people to take a low dose of aspirin daily to prevent cardiovascular disease, now recommends that adults ages 40-59, who are at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease but do not have a history of the disease, decide with their doctor whether to start taking aspirin based on their individual circumstances.
Dr. Michael Huber, Arkansas Heart Hospital cardiologist, explains who should and should not take aspirin as well as common cardiovascular disease risk factors and how to assess risk.
“When you look at aspirin use for prevention of cardiovascular disease there are two main categories: primary prevention and secondary prevention,” Dr. Huber said.
The primary prevention is to stop a cardiovascular disease in someone who has never had it or a cardiovascular event — the most common are heart attacks and strokes.
“Some patients in the primary prevention group have a very low risk for a cardiovascular event,” he said. “These patients do not need aspirin because the risk of bleeding outweighs the benefits.”
The secondary prevention is necessary if the patient has already had a cardiovascular event. In this case, it is aspirin is generally recommended to prevent another event.
To prevent a cardiovascular event in the primary prevention group, Dr. Huber says the most important thing to do is assess risk.
“The traditional risk factors for cardiovascular disease are hyperlipidemia, diabetes, hypertension, family history of cardiovascular disease, and smoking,” he said. “The more risk factors you have, the higher your risk. Also, if you are not controlling these risk factors then your risk is even higher.”
Learn your cardiovascular risk with the HeartSaver CT scan, which detects heart disease in its earliest stages. The scan is included in the Keep the Beat comprehensive heart screening – exclusively at Arkansas Heart Hospital.
“The heart saver CT measures the amount of calcium detected in the coronary arteries,” Dr. Huber said. “Calcium is a component of the cholesterol plaque in the arteries and the burden of plaque correlates with the risk of a future heart attack. So, the higher the result of the coronary calcium score, the higher the risk for a future heart attack.”
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