The Family Health Guide

Aspirin and your heart: Many questions, some answers

Although aspirin is an excellent medication for fever and pain, other drugs can fill these roles equally well. But aspirin also has a unique role. In patients with coronary artery disease, aspirin prevents heart attacks.

In 1989, the Harvard's Physicians' Health Study provided impressive evidence that aspirin can indeed protect a man's heart. More than 22,000 men between the ages of 40 and 84 volunteered to take either a standard 325-milligram (mg) aspirin tablet or a placebo every other day. Over five years, the men in the study who took aspirin suffered 44% fewer heart attacks than their peers taking placebo.

The Harvard researchers noted some nuances: although aspirin protected against heart attacks, it did not reduce the risk of cardiac death, and all the benefit was confined to men older than 50. And even in low doses, aspirin increased the risk of bleeding.

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