An aspirin a day….

For this post I thought I would write about staying healthy, but in a slightly different manner than I’ve done in previous blogs. In older blogs I’ve written about screening, vaccinations, etc.  In this one I thought I’d talk about using a medication to stay healthy, and in this case talk about aspirin.

Aspirin has been around for more than 100 years, and perhaps is a bit under appreciated since it is an over the counter medication (meaning one can buy it without a prescription). It is also something that is derived from a natural product. Willow bark had been used to treat fevers  and it was eventually found that salicylic acid was the active ingredient. Salicylic acid was then derived from this. I won’t go into the chemistry of this (I figure if you’re a bit of science nerd like I am you probably already know, and if not I don’t want to bore you).

Most people probably think of it as a pain killer or a headache medication.  It is much more than that. Aspirin plays an important role in treatment of patients who’ve had heart attacks – it helps treatment and also helps decrease the death rate from heart attacks. It is used in primary prevention heart disease as well. In the past high dose aspirin was used in the treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis. It’s use in this latter population (at least for treatment of Rheumatoid Arthritis) has been eclipsed by other medications. However it still should be used to treat/prevent heart disease in this group of patients.

Use of aspirin in ischemic stroke patients is advised as well.

Though less studied at this point, aspirin use to prevent recurrent deep venous thrombosis, is a consideration (this is after someone has been treated with coumadin for an acceptable length of time).   A link to a review on this subject can be found here:

There is some evidence linking aspirin intake to a decreased chance of developing colon cancer. At the moment there is not enough evidence to routinely suggest people take aspirin solely to prevent colon cancer. There is also some evidence that it only helps prevent colon cancer in certain groups of people – those that have a particular form of a particular gene. The only recommendation is for aspirin to help reduce the risk of heart disease.

Aspirin, like any other medication, has its downside as well. It can cause stomach ulcers. If the ulcers are large enough they can cause a lot of bleeding. It should not be used in children, except in rare circumstances and even then only then under the guidance of a pediatrician or other health care provider who provides a lot of treatment to children (EG pediatric rheumatologists, family practice physicians, etc).

Men’s Health

My previous post was about women’s health. In this post I am going to review a couple of aspects of Men’s health. Most of the things men should be doing are things  people of both genders should be doing to stay healthy: stop smoking, exercising, eating a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight (or loosing weight if overweight).  Staying up to date with immunizations, such as yearly flu vaccination, is also important. Getting screened yearly for hypertension is important. Skin cancer screening is also important, though this might only need to be done every 2 years depending on whether you have any suspicious moles or lesions, prior history, you and your dermatologist’s comfort levels for yearly vs every other year screening. Cholesterol screening at appropriate intervals is important (a healthy male in his 20’s with no risk factors for heart disease only needs his cholesterol checked every 5 years or so. Older men and those with risk factors require monitoring more frequently and perhaps yearly if risk factors are present or if on treatment to lower cholesterol). I won’t get into more details about screening or other issues covered already in other posts.

Perhaps the biggest controversy in mens health is prostate cancer screening. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force actually recommends against routine screening for prostate cancer in healthy men of all ages. Even the American Urological association recommends against screening for prostate under the age of 64 and in men with life expectancy of less than 10 years. For screening, a conversation with your primary care doctor is warranted before getting the test. The main reason it is controversial is that one runs the risk of finding a prostate cancer which is indolent (slow growing), non aggressive that one is likely to die with than of – meaning one is likely to die of some other disease before the prostate cancer becomes a problem. At this time we don’t have enough information to know what low grade/early prostate tumors are going to become aggressive and turn into problems. One therefor runs the risk of over treating something that would not be a problem.

Occasionally I’ve had patients ask for testosterone levels and had to talk to patients about testosterone replacement. Testosterone levels are not something  routinely checked unless there is a clinical reason (if there is loss of libido, erectile dysfunction, and so forth, then it’s worth getting). Testosterone replacement has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease so replacement benefits needs to be worth the increased risk.

Although I probably run the risk of repeating myself by saying this, but reducing the risk of heart disease, lung cancer, colorectal cancer by exercising, watching what one eats and getting appropriate screening applies to men’s health as well.