At Age 110, Aspirin Seen as 'Wonder' Drug, Could Save 45,000 Adult Lives Yearly

"Take two aspirin and call me in the morning." So goes the old punch line. But 110 years after the discovery of what's formally called acetylsalicylic acid, aspirin remains a wonder drug.

Just today, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is releasing results from a study showing that taking one aspirin a day could save 45,000 adult lives per year.

When the German company Bayer Co. originally began marketing aspirin in the U.S. in the early 20th century, the drug company boasted that it "does not affect the heart." Good for us that turned out not to be true. In fact, if taken at the onset of a heart attack and continued for 30 days, aspirin can reduce the risk of death by 23 percent.

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Those at high risk of heart attacks, as defined by the American Heart Association, should use aspirin therapy at the guidance of their physicians. Those seen as moderately at risk should use aspirin if the benefit of aspirin outweighs gastrointestinal risks. Those at low risk need not bother.

Women who regularly take aspirin reduce their chances of a heart attack by 32 percent. In fact, for both men and women, swallowing a fast aspirin at the onset of a heart attack might reduce both the risk of death and also the threat of complications. The FDA has, in fact, approved the use of aspirin to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke in people who have had a heart attack, those who have suffered an ischemic stroke, and also those who have had either stable or unstable angina.