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Does an aspirin a day really lower the risk of heart disease?

Aspirin is a small, yet effective, over-the-counter drug. Also known as acetylsalicylic acid, this pill relieves minor pain and reduces fever and inflammation. Besides having these benefits, it is also widely recognized to prevent heart disease. Aspirin reduces the chance of plaque build up in the heart due to inflammation, which in turn reduces the likelihood of sudden heart failure. It also combats the possibility of clogged arteries by acting as a blood thinner and reducing blood clots, which helps prevent blocked arteries—the main cause of heart attacks. Heart diseases, such as heart attack and stroke, cause almost one million deaths in the US per year, and many look hopefully to aspirin as a cure for this epidemic.

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According to a U.S. Physician’s Health Study, ingesting a daily 75 mg tablet of aspirin lowered the risk of heart disease in 44% of the participants. However, a drug rarely exists without side effects. Daily aspirin dosages can increase the risk of internal bleeding, especially in the stomach. Internal bleeding is hard to detect and may be fatal when too much blood escapes from the circulatory system. This severe side effect may come from any blood-thinning medication, not just aspirin. Whether or not the benefits outweigh the risks is still a disputable topic amongst doctors and researchers alike.

The most accepted justification for aspirin therapy is that its advantages vary per individual, and individuals should make their own informed choices. Men over age 50 have a higher risk of heart disease while women may be relatively safe until age 65. Those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes are at greater risk for heart attack or stroke. People who have already experienced a heart attack or stroke are highly encouraged to try aspirin therapy. These individuals may find that, although there are the risks of internal bleeding, the benefits regarding their cardiovascular disease outweigh the risks.

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Aspirin therapy can be very effective against heart disease, but the benefits and risks vary for every person. Make sure you are aware of the side effects of the medication, and consult your doctor before committing to any kind of treatment.

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