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Should I Take an Aspirin Every Day for My Heart?

Tuesday, Nov 10, 2015
An Aspirin A Day

It's a question you should ask your doctor.

You may have heard that low-dose aspirin may help prevent a heart attack or stroke. Does that mean everyone should start taking aspirin?

Not so fast.

A daily low-dose aspirin is recommended for some people. For others, it provides no benefits and may actually cause harm.

Preventing heart attack and stroke

Most heart attacks and strokes happen when blood supply to your heart muscle or brain is blocked. The process begins when cholesterol, calcium and cellular waste build up inside an artery and produce something called plaque. This reduces the blood flow through the artery and results in coronary artery disease.

If a plaque grows large enough and is fragile, it may rupture and cause a blood clot that blocks blood flow or breaks off and travels to another part of the body. A heart attack occurs when the blood clot blocks a blood vessel to the heart. A stroke is when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel that feeds the brain.

Aspirin thins the blood and helps prevent blood clots from forming. This may lower your risk of heart attack or stroke. Many people take a low-dose aspirin each day to prevent heart attack and stroke. The dosage can be anywhere from 81 milligrams (low-dose or ‘baby' aspirin) to 325 milligrams (regular strength).

What's the recommendation?

The American Heart Institute recommends, "People at high risk of heart attack should take a daily low-dose of aspirin (if told to by their healthcare provider) and heart attack survivors should regularly take low-dose aspirin."

Recently, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued a draft recommendation suggesting a daily low-dose aspirin for people ages 50 to 59 who have an increased risk of heart attack and stroke, but who are not at increased risk for bleeding.

"High risk" generally applies to people with cardiovascular disease, or who have already had a heart attack or stroke.

Know the risks

Daily aspirin is not recommended for people with a bleeding or clotting disorder, an allergy to aspirin or bleeding stomach ulcers. Complications related to daily aspirin include gastrointestinal bleeding, an allergic reaction, and in some cases stroke caused by a burst blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke). Aspirin may also interact in a bad way with other medications and some dietary supplements. Drinking alcohol raises the risk of stomach problems like bleeding in people on a daily aspirin.

Aspirin may also have side effects like nausea, vomiting, stomach pain or heartburn.

The bottom line

There are differing opinions in the science world when it comes to a daily aspirin regimen. Some organizations are all for it, while others contend that aspirin has too many risks. Still others suggest that aspirin isn't doing any good for healthy people who take it to prevent heart disease.

In the end, it's very important to talk to your doctor or healthcare provider about whether you should be taking an aspirin. You should not start taking aspirin everyday on your own, no matter what the dose is.

The American Heart Association suggests five questions to ask your healthcare provider about aspirin.

  • What is my risk of having a heart attack or stroke?
  • Would I benefit from taking aspirin?
  • What are the side effects of aspirin?
  • How long should I take aspirin?
  • Will aspirin interfere with my other medications?

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