Heart Patients: Think Twice Before Ditching Aspirin Regimen
If you take aspirin to help control your heart disease, going off the pill could increase your risk of having a heart attack, new research suggests. A daily low-dose aspirin is recommended to help prevent blood clots in heart patients, but about half of takers stop the regimen at some point, raising their heart attack risk. Researchers tracked nearly 40,000 patients ages 50 to 84 and found that those who stopped taking aspirin had a 60 percent increased risk of a heart attack over the following three years compared with patients who stayed the course, according to findings published Tuesday in the British Medical Journal. "This research is yet another reminder of how effective a little daily pill of aspirin can be at preventing someone from having another heart attack, Ellen Mason, the British Heart Foundation's senior cardiac nurse, told BBC News. "So it's very concerning how many people with heart disease are not taking their aspirin. This very cheap, but valuable, golden oldie is one of the best researched drugs we have in our arsenal to stop further heart attacks. The benefits certainly outweigh any risks for most people."
12 Things You Should Know About Aspirin
Aspirin, that old standard in everyone's medicine chest, can really pack a wallop. So much so that the American Heart Association has long recommended aspirin therapy for people who've had a heart attack, stroke caused by blood clot, unstable angina, or "ministrokes." The AHA also notes that even people who have not experienced such an event but who are at increased risk because of family history, say, may also stand to gain from aspirin therapy.
We're certainly familiar with our aspirin: About 60 percent of people ages 65 and older pop aspirin at least once a week, U.S. News reported in 2008. But this cheap, over-the-counter pill is not benign, and regular use should be discussed with a doctor. Along with its benefits, aspirin has limitations, too. A roundup of research suggests taking aspirin regularly may do the following:
1) Cut pre-eclampsia risk during pregnancy. A research review published in the Lancet in 2007 suggests that pregnant women who took aspirin or other antiplatelet drugs were 10 percent less likely to develop the disorder that involves high blood pressure and potentially serious complications for mother and fetus. Aspirin therapy during pregnancy should definitely be discussed with an obstetrician.
2) Reduce risk of developing colorectal cancers. The journal Gastroenterology published a study in 2008 that found a significantly lowered risk of developing the cancers in men with regular, long-term aspirin (and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory) use. The benefits, however, were not evident until individuals had amassed a total of five consistent years of regular use. Also, the dose with the biggest benefit—325-mg pills more than 14 times each week—is greater than typically recommended. [Read more: 12 Things You Should Know About Aspirin.]
Recuperating From Heart Surgery: An 8-Step Comeback Plan
Surgeon Marc Wallack was seven minutes into his run through Central Park in 2002 when he felt chest pain that he attributed to stress and indigestion. It happened again the next day, and again on a subsequent run. Finally, unable to ignore the telltale warning sign of heart problems, Wallack went to see a cardiologist and was told that all four of his coronary arteries were more than 95 percent blocked. He needed immediate open-heart surgery—a quadruple bypass—which he sailed through successfully from a physical standpoint, but psychologically left him feeling broken, U.S. News reported in 2010. "I woke up from the surgery and wasn't the same person," recalls Wallack, who is vice chair of the department of surgery at New York Medical College. His fears overwhelmed him. "I worried I was never going to operate again, pay my mortgage, support my family; every time I ate I could visualize the plaque going back on my arteries."
And he fantasized about dying, a hallmark of depression, which afflicts one in five patients after heart surgery and one in three heart attack survivors. Wallack knew other colleagues in the same boat; one had to quit his medical practice as a result. And Wallack knew that his depression, if left untreated, would dramatically increase his likelihood of more heart complications. So he and his wife, Fox News anchor Jamie Colby, devised an 8-step comeback plan and detailed it in their book Back to Life After a Heart Crisis. "It was about helping to bring him back amongst the living," says Colby. For Wallack, that meant training for another marathon, which he managed to complete two years after his surgery; for Colby, it meant getting her husband through doctor's appointments, navigating him through career changes, and convincing him to see a therapist. Anyone who has been through heart surgery, Colby says, can benefit from trying the following.
Step 1: Take one night at a time. Most bypass surgery patients experience sleep problems initially, according to surveys, with many finding that the problems become chronic. "I'd close my eyes at night and worry that my heart wasn't going to continue to beat," recalls Wallack. What helped? His wife's reassuring words. "One night we were lying in bed and I had my head on his chest listening to his heart beat," says Colby. "I said, Marc, your heart is so loud, it's beating stronger than I've ever heard it before; I think that helped him." Regular visits to a psychiatrist and prescription sleeping pills (which he now only takes occasionally) also brought better sleep for the first few months. [Read more: Recuperating from Heart Surgery: An 8-Step Comeback Plan.]
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