After decades of viewing daily low-dose aspirin as the standard recommendation for preventing cardiovascular disease, it seems the time for change has come. There has been ongoing discussion and study about the value of aspirin for over 30 years in both the treatment and prevention of heart and vascular diseases. For years, doctors prescribed aspirin for all patients needing to lower their risk of these diseases.
But the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association now recommend aspirin not be prescribed in the absence of known coronary or vascular disease. Instead, for most people, treatment should focus on healthy lifestyle habits, including physical activity, diet and control of factors like cholesterol, diabetes risk and blood pressure.
Aspirin therapy comes with a significantly increased risk of bleeding that can potentially offset its value for prevention of cardiovascular events. As a result, it should no longer be routinely used unless the patient has had an evaluation and discussion with their physician about the risk of cardiovascular disease and the risk of bleeding. If currently taking a daily dose of aspirin, talk to a doctor about tailoring treatment for individual needs — and about whether aspirin is still the right choice.
The era of universal aspirin therapy is over. Aspirin therapy is now reserved for select “high-risk” patients that have had open-heart surgery or stents inserted, or experienced a heart attack or stroke. But for those that don’t qualify as high-risk or already have a diagnosis of heart disease, aspirin should not be part of a preventive regime for keeping the heart healthy.
This also means a greater emphasis on starting and maintaining, those healthy habits we already know are good for us. The American College of Cardiology agrees that the most effective way to prevent cardiovascular disease, heart failure and atrial fibrillation is by living a healthy lifestyle.
Preventing Heart Disease Through a Healthy Lifestyle
Eat a heart-healthy diet. A heart-healthy diet should center around vegetables, fruits, nuts, legumes, fish and whole grains. You should limit your consumption of red meats and processed meats, refined carbohydrates, trans fats and foods high in added sugar.
Make physical activity a priority. Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise a week. Beyond dedicated exercise time, simply try to move more and sit less throughout your day. If you’re new to exercise, find an activity you enjoy — walking around the neighborhood, group fitness classes, yoga, even gardening. Start small, but start today.
Quit smoking. If you smoke, talk to your doctor about steps you can take today to quit.
Take control of your numbers. There are many contributing factors that play a role in influencing your heart health and overall well-being. Maintain regular touch points with your primary care physician to help keep track of these key indicators: cholesterol, blood pressure, blood sugar and weight.
Take the heart disease quiz at Tinyurl.com/BaylorHeartQuiz.
Michael Sills, MD, cardiologist, Baylor Scott & White Heart and Vascular Hospital – Dallas is the co-lead of cardiology for Health Texas Provider Network. For more information, visit BaylorHeartHospital.com.
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