For many decades aspirin has been used for aches, pains and fevers, in essence it is an anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID). The last two decades have seen a rising change in prescription use. Researchers discovered that low doses of aspirin also have antiplatelet properties, meaning that they can help to reduce the risk of blood clots, strokes and heart attacks. For this reason many doctors started prescribing daily, low doses of aspirin to high risk cardiovascular patients and to those who have already suffered from a stroke or heart attack. Aspirin still remains a very popular anti-inflammatory drug, it just has extra associations now.
What are blood clots and why does aspirin help?
Blood clots happen when platelets (small cells in the blood) try to repair damaged blood vessels. Not all blood clots are bad, It’s a natural process and one that’s very much needed for us to survive, imagine if you got a bad cut and were bleeding badly but the blood would not stop flowing. Likewise, any kind of medical invasive surgery would not be possible without the body’s ability to stop bleeding and repair itself.
When there is a damaged blood vessel the platelets in our blood stream send out a chemical signal to other platelets and proteins in the blood signaling that something needs to clot and repair. This action causes the platelets to stick together and clot the blood where it’s needed. The problem arises when blood clots form unintentionally or continue to clot after the blood vessel has been repaired. The result is that it stops the blood from continuing to flow at the needed pace and blocks the arteries, causing strokes and heart attacks. If you have a blood clot in your arm or leg it can even reduce circulation to extremities and cause very serious side effects.
Using a drug like aspirin in low doses and on a daily basis has the ability to reduce the effectiveness of the platelets and their ability to stick together and clot.
That’s why it’s important for high risk patients to use an anti-clotting medication. The idea is that if you reduce the clotting ability then you reduce the chances of a getting a harmful blood clot or having a cardiovascular episode.
Aspirin isn’t the only drug that can help you low your risk by reducing the platelet activity. Plavix, Effient, Brilinta and Persantine can also be used, and depending on the circumstance can be more effective. These drugs also affect the platelet function, just like aspirin does.
Are anti-platelets the only medication you can use to prevent blood clots?
Depending on the reason why your clots are forming or why you might be considered in the high risk category, using a different kind of prescription medication like Eliquis, Warfarin, Pradaxa or Xarelto might be far more beneficial to you. These drugs work on interfering with clotting factors rather than the platelets.
Do you really need Aspirin?
First up, if you are not a high risk cardiovascular patient then aspirin will most likely not help you. Taking daily doses of Aspirin 75mg should not be taken lightly or without Dr. supervision. There are side effects and risks alongside the benefits. It’s up to your Dr. to weigh up the risks for you. Having said that, as this article from Medpage Today points out, many doctors from all different medical specialties are over prescribing aspirin to patients who don’t need. This article focuses on the over-use by neurologists, cardiologists and self-prescribers. Specifically, it explains why Aspirin shouldn’t necessarily be prescribed as prevention in patients who have not yet suffered any cardiovascular or blood clotting episodes.
The most important point to take from the article is that while low dose Aspirin is available over the counter, it is not advisable to self-prescribe as a way of preventing heart attacks. This is the most common form of misuse in middle age adults.
Self-prescribing is dangerous and can lead to serious side effects like gastrointestinal bleeding, side effects that not many self-prescribing individuals know about. Low risk patients who self-prescribe Aspirin put themselves at higher risk of adverse side effects, not to mention the fact that the use of Aspirin is not effective unless there has been a previous stroke or heart attack or they are medically classified as being high risk of developing blood clots.
Heart disease awareness education has increased in recent years, thanks to the publication of many research studies on the effects of aspirin and media campaigns. It is a great achievement but it has also resulted in many people associating aspirin primarily with preventing coronary disease full stop. Some of these studies have also suggested that aspirin can even help prevent some kinds of cancer, a fact we don’t dispute, but like in all medical studies there is set criteria to determine who the study participants are, allowing the study to be conducted in a controlled and accurate manor.
Many people hear about medical studies and jump head first into taking medications they don’t need. They don’t fully understand the criteria behind the medical studies or the implications of unneeded or unsuccessful treatment. In our opinion a combination of that and being able to access low dose aspirin over the counter is to blame for the rising misuse of aspirin.
Do you agree?