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Learn about the effects of aspirin for heart health and if (or when) you should take it.

Aspirin therapy, or taking one aspirin daily, is reported to help people who have suffered from a heart attack or are at a high risk of suffering from one. 

“Doctors commonly prescribe aspirin therapy to people unless they have a history of bleeding or are allergic to aspirin,” says LuAnn Domenico, pharmacist at Geisinger Mt. Pocono

But how do you know when you should start aspirin therapy and when you should avoid it? First, it’s important to understand how aspirin works. 

How aspirin can help prevent a heart attack 

Aspirin helps to relieve pain, reduce inflammation, lower fevers and interrupts your body’s ability to clot. 

“This is why it’s not recommended for someone with a history of bleeding to take aspirin regularly,” says Domenico. 

Most heart attacks occur when the blood supply to a part of your heart is blocked, which is usually the result of a buildup of plaque in your arteries. If the artery ruptures, it can cause a blood clot to form, which can block blood flow to parts of your body. 

“This is called an embolism,” says Domenico, “If the blood clot blocks blood flow to your heart, it can result in a heart attack.” 

Taking aspirin thins your blood, which helps prevent blood clots from forming during a heart attack. 

Taking aspirin during a heart attack

If you have a heart attack, the first thing you should do is call 911. “The operator may recommend that you take an aspirin while you wait for the ambulance to arrive with medics,” says Domenico. 

Taking steps immediately is key to limiting the damage a heart attack can cause. “Chewing an aspirin tablet as soon as possible during a heart attack can prevent your blood from clotting, which could lessen the effects of a heart attack.”

Taking aspirin daily 

For otherwise healthy people without a history of heart attack, taking a daily aspirin can lead to adverse side effects, including stomach bleeding. This can be minimized by using the enteric coated tablet, but you should never take aspirin to prevent a heart attack if you are allergic to it. 

If you’re taking a daily aspirin, you should also let your surgeon, doctor or dentist know before any procedures to help avoid excessive bleeding. And always consult your doctor before discontinuing aspirin therapy for any reason. 

Without taking aspirin daily, alternative steps can be taken to support your heart health, including:

  • Losing weight
  • Exercising regularly
  • Quitting smoking
  • Managing healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels 

“Remember, you shouldn’t practice aspirin therapy on your own without first talking with your doctor,” says Domenico. “But, if recommended by your doctor, aspirin can help you get ahead of your heart health in addition to a healthy lifestyle.”

Next steps: 

Man taking an aspirin at home

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