Ask the expert: Should I take aspirin to prevent a heart attack?

This week you may have seen news headlines touting aspirin as a way to prevent heart attacks. But does that apply to you?

OHSU experts are cautioning against a run to the pharmacy until you know whether you meet the specific criteria required to benefit from the regimen. Many people with existing heart disease are advised to take a low-dose aspirin every day to prevent blood clots, the cause of heart attacks and most strokes. Whether healthy individuals should do the same to prevent heart attack and stroke, known as primary prevention, has been up for debate.

The news coverage this week comes from new guidelines released by a government panel of experts outlining who would benefit from taking daily low-dose aspirin for primary prevention.

In order to benefit from an aspirin regimen, according to the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, healthy men and women must meet a strict list of criteria — including a high risk of heart disease and a low risk of bleeding side effects.aspirin

Specifically, the group recommends that adults in their 50s, who have a 10 percent or greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease, are not at risk for bleeding, and have a life expectancy of at least 10 years take a daily low-dose aspirin to prevent heart attack, stroke, and also colorectal cancer.

According to OHSU cardiologist Dr. Michael Shapiro, “These new recommendations reflect a greater consensus regarding a narrower role for aspirin in the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease. In other words, one must exceed a certain threshold of risk for a vascular event, and this must be balanced by risk of bleeding, in order to benefit from daily low-dose aspirin.”

He added, “There is now recognition that statins are by far the most effective and safest agents for primary prevention. Statins are safer than aspirin by an order of magnitude.”

Our experts agree that low-dose aspirin is still an extremely effective therapy for secondary prevention and should be recommended routinely to heart disease patients if they have a low risk of bleeding.

Be sure to check with your doctor if you’re wondering if low-dose aspirin is right for you, and before starting any new medication. Learn more about the best ways to prevent heart disease at the Center for Preventive Cardiology at the OHSU Knight Cardiovascular Institute.