It seems logical that a chronically stressed person could benefit from a daily aspirin in terms of helping prevent a heart attack, since aspirin is a blood thinner and stress thickens blood.
I wondered about this, so I asked a cardiologist if a healthy person under persistent stress should take that daily aspirin.
“It really depends on the risk factors of the patient,” says Pilar Stevens-Cohen, MD, FACC, Department of Cardiology, South Nassau Communities Hospital.
“For the reduction of myocardial infarctions [heart attacks] in men between 45-79, it is recommended if any of the risk factors exist: diabetes, hypertension, smoking, high cholesterol.
“For women between 55-79 there is no data to support primary prevention and aspirin use for myocardial infarction.
“There is an associated reduction in ischemic strokes if any of the following risk factors exist: atrial fibrillation, hypertension, smoking, diabetes, left ventricular hypertrophy.
“Taking baby aspirin in the absence of any risk factors probably doesn’t prevent a primary event, but may increase risk of GI bleeding.”
Chronic stress makes the blood thicker and stickier.
This is because the body, when faced with persistent anxiety, “thinks” that a threatening event is imminent.
Should the body get gashed in a fight or flee situation, thick, sticky blood will clot a lot faster than thinner blood—preventing a fatal hemorrhage!
The intense exertion of a fight or escape from the threat produces hormones that reverse this thickening.
However, for most people, that fight or flight is not possible (e.g., being trapped in a stressful job all day long). Thus, the blood remains chronically thickened—more likely to form clots…and one of these can form in the heart…
However, Dr. Stevens-Cohen explains, “In the average patient, even a patient who leads a very stressful life, there is no benefit to taking a baby aspirin in preventing MI.
“The studies simply don’t support it. While it may not be harmful, it is not considered protective at this time.
“When I was a resident, every patient with one or more cardiac risk factors was placed on ASA 81 mg for MI prevention (let’s forget stroke for now).
“Then studies were released showing that the incidence of MI was actually similar in patients taking ASA vs. not in this population.
“Keeping in mind, this study population had cardiac risk factors and there was no benefit (in particular with women).
“So now, let’s lower the threshold and say no risk factors at all in a heart healthy patient with chronic stress. There is no evidence to support daily aspirin would be protective.
Chronic stress may lead to anxiety, variations in blood pressure, lack of sleep and overall decrease in general health.
“Targeting the specific pathology that impacts a patient’s life may be more beneficial than generic baby aspirin for all.”
Dr. Stevens-Cohen is board certified in cardiology, nuclear cardiology, echocardiography and internal medicine.
Lorra Garrick has been covering medical, fitness and cybersecurity topics for many years, having written thousands of articles for print magazines and websites, including as a ghostwriter. She’s also a former ACE-certified personal trainer.