In recent years, daily aspirin therapy has increasingly been used to help lower the risk of heart attacks and blood clot related strokes. But a recent study showed that over the counter medications might actually increase the risk of high blood pressure in men. As more than 40 percent of African Americans have high blood pressure (hypertension), Real Health asked experts to help us sort through the new research.

The aspirin therapy debate
Should you use aspirin to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke? Two recent studies suggest different answers. The first, from researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School examined a variety of over-the-counter pain drugs, such as ibuprofen (Advil and Motrin), naproxen (Aleve and Naprosyn), acetaminophen (Tylenol) and Aspirin. They found that men who took any of these drugs had a higher risk of developing high blood pressure; men who took aspirin six or seven days a week had a 26% higher risk.

However, another recent study, which looked at middle-aged and older women, found a 38 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease among aspirin takers, compared to women who didn’t take aspirin therapy.

What you should know
The Harvard researchers recommend that painkillers “be used with greater caution.” But Richard A. Williams, M.D., professor of medicine and cardiology at UCLA, and founder of the Association of Black Cardiologists, reminds people that these drugs – often thought of as interchangeable – are different, and should be examined individually, on a person-by-person basis. “You have to be cautious not to make a blanket criticism of medications that can do good,” he says.

Researchers have found that there are differences between men and women when it comes to aspirin therapy. But neither study rules out risks for other groups. For example, past studies show that daily aspirin therapy might be less beneficial for younger women because of gastrointestinal problems.

What you should do
Dr. Williams thinks that people should remember that painkillers, including those prescribed in daily therapy, are like any other medication – they come with risks and benefits. “Some are beneficial and some have side effects,” he says. He advises both men and women to consult their doctors: “Your doctor will prescribe a medication that will do the job and have minimal side effects.”

Keith Ferdinand, M.D., Chief Science Officer of the Association of Black Cardiologists, also says that people can do internet research – but only if they’re using verified sources, like the Association of Black Cardiologists site, the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute site. Patients can find guidelines for aspirin which have not been modified by the recent studies, he says.