Aspirin can save your life, but how you take it makes a difference.
Video featuring Dr. Sanjay Gupta
As a daily medication, aspirin can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. It can also be taken during a heart attack to slow the damage being done to the heart muscle, giving you more time to get to the hospital.
The brand of aspirin you take does not matter, but the dosage and the delivery are very different in those two situations.
Many cardiologists recommend a daily low-dose aspirin to everyone over a certain age.
Stephen Kopecky, MD, at the Mayo Clinic recommends daily aspirin to men over 45 and women over 55, if they do not have bleeding problems.
As a preventative, most cardiologists recommend an 81-milligram aspirin, which is the dosage given to children and about one-quarter the normal dose for an adult.
The aspirin should also be coated to protect the stomach.
But the rules change during a heart attack. In that case, you want to take a full-dose aspirin with no coating, and you want to chew it to get it into the bloodstream as fast as possible.
“If you chew the aspirin, it will work on your platelets within about 45 minutes,” says Dr. Kopecky. “If you swallow it, it takes two to three hours.”
Aspirin thins the blood by inhibiting an enzyme called COX, which is needed for the platelets in your blood to clump together and form clots.
We need to be able to form clots so our wounds can heal, but a clot in the wrong place, like an artery leading to the brain or to the heart, can be fatal.