Despite its known benefits, new research from the University of Minnesota’s Medical School shows many older patients don’t talk to their doctors about the cardiovascular benefits of low-dose aspirin.
The study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, looked at aspirin use of 26,000 Minnesotans ages 25 to 74. The study found aspirin use for primary prevention of heart attacks and stroke increased in men from 1 percent in 1980 to 21 percent in 2009, and in women from 1 percent to 12 percent.
In this case, primary prevention means taking aspirin if you have known risk factors of heart attack and stroke, before an adverse event occurs. The recommended age is 45 for men and 55 for women. According to the research, the rate among men 65 to 74 rose from 3 percent in 1980 to 57 percent in 2009, which may not be high enough.
Although people have been using aspirin to prevent heart attacks and stroke since the 1980s, thousands of Minnesotans with high blood pressure are still not using aspirin daily. This is hoped to increase with the “Ask About Aspirin” campaign, lead by researcher Alan Hirsch, M.D., a cardiologist in the Medical School and Lillehei Heart Institute and Russel Luepker, M.D., M.S., professor of epidemiology and cardiology in the School of Public Health.
“There’s been less clarity and more confusion about what to do when you’re at risk but haven’t had the event [stroke or heart attack],” said Hirsch in an interview with MPR. “In other words, if aspirin is your seat belt, you’d like to wear it before the accident happens.”
The campaign, which launched last year, is an initiative designed by the Lillehei Heart Institute at the University of Minnesota Medical School and the School of Public Health. The statewide campaign is designed to quickly and safely lower heart disease risk by generating public awareness and second, providing the education and tools necessary for health professionals to facilitate the appropriate recommendation.
As mentioned in Hirsch’s study, the campaign could potentially prevent 10,000 heart attacks and 1,200 strokes among Minnesotans who currently are at risk. Although increased aspirin use could lead to side effects such gastrointestinal bleeding and hemorrhagic strokes, the low cost and benefits of aspirin outweigh these risks.
“The fear of providing an innocent aspirin pill and causing a bleeding ulcer trumps the optimism of providing something that might prevent heart attack or stroke,” said Hirsch in an interview with the Star Tribune. “It will take a concerted effort to convince doctors and also patients who loathe taking pills when they aren’t sick.”
It’s always important to consult your doctor before taking over the counter medications, so have a conversation about whether it is right for you. Fighting heart attack and stroke could be as simple as taking one aspirin a day.