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Tiny pill packs powerful protection

Open your medicine cabinet, and you'll probably see the answer to a longer life -- if you're at risk of a heart attack. Over 80 billion aspirin are taken by Americans each year for aches, pains, and headaches, and it's the main ingredient in more than 50 over-the-counter products.

Aspirin therapy has also become the "gold standard" for treating people who have suffered a heart attack or are at risk of one. Salicylic acid, the main ingredient in aspirin, keeps blood cells from clumping together and sticking to the walls of your arteries. This reduces your risk of blood clots and heart attacks.

Aspirin therapy involves taking small doses, one 81 mg baby aspirin, every day to help keep your blood free of clots. However, the latest research says a larger, booster dose -- about 325 mg or one regular aspirin -- twice a month might be necessary for aspirin therapy to maintain its effectiveness. After about two weeks, that dose wears off and another one is needed. Experts recommend a 325-mg dose on the 1st and 15th of each month and a smaller, 810mg dose the rest of the month.

If you are a man over 40 or a woman over 50 with any heart disease risk factors, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, a family history of early heart attack, or if you are a smoker or postmenopausal woman not taking hormones, aspirin therapy might be beneficial for you.

In 1997, the FDA approved a prescription blood-thinner, clopidogrel, for treating and preventing heart disease. But a recent study, taking into account cost, convenience, and safety, found that aspirin is still the best choice for most people. Yet, the study found that clopidogrel may be a better choice for people with peripheral arterial disease. This disease causes the arteries outside your heart, like those that deliver blood to your arms and legs, to become clogged. It may also be an option for people who have severe side effects from aspirin therapy.

Always talk to your doctor before beginning aspirin therapy on your own to be sure it's the best choice for you. If you're taking ACE inhibitors for congestive heart failure, for example, aspirin may do more harm than good. A recent study found that when aspirin was given to people taking ACE inhibitors, certain aspects of lung function became worse.

     
     

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