Aspirin and a healthy heart

Family Health Diary

February is Heart Awareness month. Did you know that every 90 minutes, someone in New Zealand dies from heart disease and it is the leading cause of death in NZ? Aspirin has been used for years to prevent heart attacks and stroke. In 2018 the Ministry of Health made changes to their guidelines for using aspirin for heart disease.

Aspirin that we know today was made by a German chemist Felix Hoffmann. He worked for the drug company Bayer. Felix made aspirin to help his father’s rheumatism. Starting in 1899 Bayer sold a powder with aspirin in it to doctors. By 1915 aspirin was available to purchase over-the-counter in pharmacies.

Aspirin wasn’t new though. Like many drugs, aspirin was modified from a naturally occurring plant chemical.  Hippocrates was a Greek physician who lived about two and a half thousand years ago. He wrote that willow bark relieved pain and fevers. Lots of physicians and local healing folk used willow bark or other plants to reduce fevers and pains for thousands of years before it was made chemically in the laboratory.

By 1948 a Californian doctor started suggesting an aspirin a day to reduce the chance of heart attacks. In 1982 the Nobel Prize in medicine was awarded to researchers who showed how aspirin worked to prevent clots forming. The blood clots are what lead to heart attacks and strokes. By 2006 an American study showed that one third of all adults were taking regular aspirin.

What’s new?

In 2018 our New Zealand Ministry of Health released new recommendations about treating and preventing heart disease. Aspirin still has a place for preventing heart attack and stroke but there are now some cautions. The main changes are:

  • for people over 70year old aspirin is now only recommended if they have already had a heart attack or stroke
  • patient’s under 70 years old should only have aspirin if they have already had a heart attack or if they have a high risk of having a heart attack
  • Aspirin is recommended in all patients with established cardiovascular disease for secondary prevention: that means that if you have already had a heart attack or stroke then you should probably be taking aspirin to reduce your chance or having another one.

You should always have a good talk to your doctor to understand the benefits and risks of aspirin or any other medicine that is recommended. Part of understanding whether you should take aspirin will be to do with your own individual risk of having a heart attack. This will depend on lots of factors including ethnicity, age, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol level and so on.

Make sure you have regular health checks with your doctor. People who are Maori, Pacific or South-Asian ethnicity are now recommended to have their heart risk assessment from 30years old for men and 40 years old for women.

The new recommendations from the Ministry of Health remind us that we can all make lifestyle changes that will reduce our chances of having a heart attack. Things you can do for yourself including eating plenty of fruit and vegetables every day and exercising for 30 minutes every day. Anything that will bring down your blood pressure or cholesterol level is likely to improve your health. Keeping to a healthy weight will also reduce your chance of a heart attack and many other health concerns.

If you have already had a heart attack click here to find more information from the Heart Foundation on ways to reduce your chance of having another heart attack.

Written by Linda Caddick

This blog provides general information and discussion about medicine, health and related subjects. The information contained in the blog and in any linked mate­ri­als, are not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice.

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