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Aspirin has been prescribed for centuries to relieve pain and fever, but its power to prevent blood clotting was discovered only in recent decades.

That discovery has led to use of the little white pill to reduce the risk of recurrent stroke, to minimize damage to heart muscle during a heart attack and to help prevent cardiovascular events.

In 2004, BJC employees could learn about the benefits of aspirin and receive a free starter bottle of low-strength aspirin if they were identified as at-risk through a questionnaire. Display tables were set up at facilities across BJC. Pharmacy and nursing staff were on hand to help explain the handout materials, complete a simple risk questionnaire and answer specific questions.

Coronary heart disease is the single leading cause of death in the United States. The BJC aspirin education and distribution program is designed to help employees better understand their risk of heart disease and how aspirin may help them reduce that risk. But aspirin isn't for everyone, so it's important for employees to discuss such issues with health professionals and their doctors."

Aspirin's role in helping reduce the risk for heart attack and stroke is similar to its role in reducing fever and pain. Aspirin blocks production of chemicals in the body called prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are the triggers in a chain reaction of chemical processes that lead to inflammation and pain. Aspirin's action on prostaglandins also inhibits the formation of blood clots, which lead to strokes and heart attacks. This benefit to the heart, however, carries a greater risk for stomach and other bleeding complications, which underscores the need for physician supervision of an aspirin regimen.

In addition to benefits to the heart, aspirin also may be associated with a reduced risk of colon cancer as a secondary benefit. No formal guidelines currently exist for colon cancer risk reduction, but several recent studies have suggested benefits in the form of reduced incidence of recurrent colon polyps. Colon polyps, which are themselves harmless, sometimes can develop into tumors over time.

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