Cardiovascular disease, or CVD, is the number one killer of women in America. In 2017 alone, 300,000 women died from CVD. An umbrella term for various problems, it includes heart disease, heart attack, stroke, heart failure, arrhythmia and heart valve issues. Many of these problems are the result of atherosclerosis, a buildup of plaque in your arteries, which over time can become narrower and restrict blood from your heart to the rest of your body.
Although you cannot control certain risk factors for CVD—like age, gender, race or ethnicity and family history – there are lifestyle changes that may help prevent CVD.
- If you smoke, quit
- Get regular exercise
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Control your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides
- Eat a healthy diet. Limit saturated fats, foods high in sodium and added sugars; and eat lots of fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
- Limit alcohol
- Manage stress
- Manage diabetes
- Get enough sleep
Aspirin is another medication, that as directed by a health care professional, could aid in prevention of another heart attack or ischemic stroke.
There are many reasons people may take aspirin for cardiovascular disease protection. Sometimes a health care professional will recommend aspirin for the prevention of a first heart attack or ischemic stroke (this is called primary prevention). If a health care professional has recommended this to you, it may be because you have risk factors, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or diabetes, but no established cardiovascular disease.
Recent studies*have changed the primary prevention guidelines for people found to be at low to moderate risk for CVD. Yet, the primary prevention guidelines are still supportive of the use of aspirin for certain individuals based on their personal health risk and with a health care professional’s recommendation.
However, it’s important to note that the recommendations have not changed for patients who have already had a heart attack or ischemic stroke, have a high underlying risk for CVD or have had a stent placed or bypass surgery. This is what aspirin is approved to be used to treat in the United States. For many of them, aspirin can be a life-saving preventative treatment. This is called secondary prevention.
Cardiologist Nieca Goldberg, MD, medical director of the NYU Langone Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health in New York City says: “Guidelines vary between organizations, but they’re evolving as more research is done. Your doctor should guide you to the best treatments for your personal health. Everyone has a different health situation. Before starting an aspirin regimen, or stopping or changing an existing regimen, it’s important to have a discussion with your doctor.”
If you already take aspirin but want to stop, speak with a health care professional.
Never start, change or stop an aspirin regimen without the advice of a health care professional. If you are taking aspirin for secondary prevention, going off it can actually increase your risk of another heart attack by 63 percent or a clot-related stroke by 40 percent.
Aspirin is not appropriate for everyone, so be sure to talk to your doctor before you begin an aspirin regimen.
This resource was created with support from Bayer® Aspirin.
* Recent studies included ARRIVE (Aspirin to Reduce Risk of Initial Vascular Events), ASCEND (A Study of Cardiovascular Events iN Diabetes) and ASPREE (ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly)