AVENTURA, Fla. - Does an aspirin a day keep heart attacks and strokes away? It's a debate that's been going on for years. Today more and more focus is being put on how the centuries-old wonder drug helps and hurts women.
To keep her heart healthy, Patricia Kapsalis of Aventura, Florida takes aspirin daily.
"I've taken an aspirin every day for a year and a half," Kapsalis said.
The 76-year-old's cholesterol and blood pressure were getting high, and it was putting her at a higher risk of heart attack. So she started a regimen of low-dose aspirin.
"I felt it was certainly worth a try," Kapsalis said.
But a recent study shows of more than 200,000 women like Kapsalis who were recommended to take aspirin every day, less than 50-percent actually did.
"And the questions abound as to why that is the case," said cardiologist Dr. Alan Ackermann.
Ackermann says women 65 and older with heart disease risks might benefit from an aspirin-a-day. He also believes aspirin is a great way to protect against another killer.
"It has the potential to reduce a first stroke by as much as 40-percent," Dr. Ackermann added.
He says the drug which can help prevent dangerous blood clots is best as secondary prevention for those who've already had a heart attack or stroke. A Dutch study finds 50 healthy women would need to take aspirin for 10 years for just one to be helped.
A recent study out of Italy suggests using low-dose aspirin as primary prevention results in a 55-percent increase in major brain or stomach bleeding. Researchers in London find for every 162 people who took aspirin, it prevented just one non-fatal heart attack, but caused two serious bleeding episodes.
Ackermann says you have to be careful with the drug.
"Speak to your physician and know the truth about what is beneficial and what is not," Ackermann said.
That's just what Kapsalis did. And she's sticking to her low-dose aspirin routine.
"I have three grandchildren. I certainly want to keep myself around as long as I can," Kapsalis said.
The bottom line? Ackermann says if you are at moderate or high risk for heart disease or stroke, low-dose aspirin could be beneficial. For anybody else, it could do more harm than good.
Before you start an aspirin regimen, talk to your doctor. If you're already on one don't quit without consulting your doctor. According to the Mayo Clinic, stopping suddenly could trigger a blood clot. And if you're taking aspirin because you've had a heart attack or have a heart stent quitting the regimen can lead to a life-threatening heart attack.
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