Sunday, July 14, 2024

Are you taking a daily aspirin?

Should you be taking a daily aspirin?

First, a little bit of (easy) basic science: we cut ourselves all the time, and nature has given us protection against bleeding to death every time this happens.

The first line of defense is our platelets, small blood particles that go to the site of disrupted blood vessels and plug any small holes, like the little Dutch boy at the dike.

The second and more permanent way bleeding is stopped is that proteins in our blood form clots.

These protective forces can cause harm. Platelets attracted not to a hole in an artery but to an irregular surface such as a cholesterol plaque can block off the artery, causing a heart attack or stroke.

(Unneeded clots can also cause problems – we will discuss that another day.)

Aspirin works to prevent platelets from clumping together. This effect is rapid and effective: a single dose of 81 or 162 mg (“low dose”) aspirin paralyzes all the circulating platelets. Platelets turn over rapidly; you get an entirely new set every 7 days, so a single dose will be effective for a few days only.

Many decades ago, it was shown that daily low dose aspirin started within 24 hours of a heart attack dramatically reduced the risk of another heart attack and stroke. This effect is called “secondary prevention:” preventing a recurrence, and nothing has changed this benefit. If you have coronary disease, you should be on aspirin unless you are at very high bleeding risk.

The problem comes when the prescription of aspirin moves from this valid use to broader use. It seems logical that if aspirin taken after a heart attack prevents another one, taking aspirin before a heart attack should prevent a first one, so-called “primary prevention.”

Aspirin taken this way DOES decrease a first heart attack or stroke, but only by a very small amount. This benefit is typically outweighed by the increased risk of bleeding that comes with aspirin use.

The higher your risk of heart attack or stroke and the lower your risk of bleeding, the more the evidence says to take aspirin. If you have multiple risk factors such as hypertension, high cholesterol, smoke and have a positive family history, and particularly if you have a high coronary calcium score, the more likely you would benefit from daily low dose aspirin.

If your coronary risk is only moderate and if you have had a bleeding ulcer or other serious bleeding, you are better avoiding aspirin.

In between? The old fallback: talk to your doctor!

No known major coronary risk? The risks almost certainly outweigh the benefits.

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Monday, July 8, 2024

How much water do you need?

It depends!

Water truly is life – we can go without eating for weeks and survive but get very sick if we do not get adequate water for a few days.

You are doubtless familiar with “rules” such as the need to drink 8 glasses of water a day. The problem with relying on such simple rules is that the real answer truly is “it depends.”

A man who is 6’5” and weighs 205 lbs. needs more water than a woman who is 5’4” and weighs 110.

It is currently sunny and pushing 90 degrees F. Walking up to get the mail left me sweating. We clearly need more water under these conditions than we do when it is 65 and shady.

People doing physical work outdoors in the heat need more water than those sitting at desks in air-conditioned offices.

“Water” includes most other liquids such as herbal tea and fruit juice – but not caffeinated drinks or alcohol, which tend to pull water out of the body.

Finally, and perhaps less obvious, we do not get water only by drinking. Many foods, particularly fruits and vegetables, contain significant amounts of water. Our habitual diet will change the amount of water we need.

Then how do you know how much water to drink? A simple reliable way to assess this is to look at your urine. If your urine is dilute – clear to pale yellow in color – you are adequately hydrated. If your urine is closer to apple juice than lemonade in color, you are dehydrated and need to drink more.

If your urine is very dark, you ought to seek medical attention, as you may need intravenous fluids.

Do not depend on thirst as your sole indicator. If you are thirsty, you are probably somewhat dehydrated, but lack of thirst is not as reliable as the color of your urine.

So: drink up!

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