Q: For several years, I’ve been hearing about how taking an aspirin a day can prevent heart attacks. Is that a good prescription for any and everyone? What else should I be concerned about?
— Name Withheld
A: I’m glad you asked. Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of all Americans and black women experience a two-thirds higher risk of death than other women. Overall, cardiovascular diseases claim 100,000 African American lives each year. Based on those statistics, it’s important to find out all you can about preventing it, but you shouldn’t make any medical adjustments concerning your health without first consulting a doctor.
Research does indicate that taking aspirin daily can reduce the risk of heart disease, but there are concerns. “Currently, 58% of the 26 million Americans who are on aspirin therapy for their heart may be taking more than they need,” says Dr. Jayne Middlebrooks, an African American cardiologist in Atlanta. “In the case of aspirin, more is not always better.” If you are a risk-averse candidate for aspirin therapy, Middlebrooks recommends 81mg — a quarter of the dose of regular-strength aspirin. “It has been shown to be as effective in preventing a recurrent heart attack or stroke. Furthermore, higher doses of aspirin are associated with increased risk of stomach problems,” she says.
Another concern is combining aspirin with pain relievers. Ibuprofen, a common ingredient in pain relievers, may counteract with aspirin. “If you need to take a pain reliever while you’re on 81 mg aspirin therapy, talk to your doctor about acetaminophen, the medicine found in Tylenol,” Middlebrooks says.