Can Taking Aspirin Prevent Heart Attacks?

Aspirin was developed for relieving pain, inflammation and fever. But for over thirty years people have been using a low-dose daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks and some kinds of strokes. That’s a good idea for some people—but not for everyone.

There are two schools of thought about just who should take aspirin as a way to prevent cardiovascular problems. Read on to learn more and see where you fit.

And the take away in case you don’t have time to read further? Even if it seems right for you, aspirin is a drug, so talk to your doctor before you begin.

What Aspirin Does

Aspirin thins blood and keeps it from clotting. It can prevent the blood clots that can block the flow of blood to the heart or brain—the clots that cause heart attack or stroke.

But aspirin can also cause bleeding, leading to problems in the stomach or brain. A brain or gut bleed can be life-threatening.

Aspirin is also risky if you’re pregnant or have uncontrolled high blood pressure, stomach ulcers, liver or kidney disease or asthma. It can also interact with other medications. Some people shouldn’t take it at all or need different doses.

So the trick is to figure out if the benefit of daily prophylactic (preventive) aspirin is greater than the risk for each individual.

Who Should Take Preventive Aspirin?

A recommendation from the Food and Drug Administration says only one group clearly benefits from taking aspirin this way:

  • People who’ve already had heart attack, stroke or diagnosis of cardiovascular disease, regardless of age, definitely might benefit from taking a daily aspirin —
  • But not everyone in this group:
    If you take other medications to keep blood from clotting, aspirin should be used with great caution if at all. And if you have bleeding disorders, aspirin allergy or other health conditions, you might not be able to take aspirin.

The American Heart Association agrees with this and adds to the list:

  • People who are at high risk of heart attack, according to their doctors.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force found:

  • Taking low-dose aspirin can help adults ages 50 to 69 who are at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease prevent heart attacks and stroke, as well as colorectal cancer.
  • Evidence shows low-dose aspirin use is most beneficial for people ages 50 to 59 (B recommendation); adults ages 60 to 69 should make the decision with their doctor.

What’s The Recommended Dose?

The usual recommended dose is 81 mg (a baby aspirin) to 325 mg (a regular strength tablet). You should visit with your health care professional if you should take aspirin and what amount is right for you.

A Caution for People Already Using Daily Aspirin

If you’ve been taking aspirin this way and want to stop, don’t do it suddenly. Talk to your doctor about gradually reducing it. Stopping all at once can actually increase the risk of clots.

Meet the Author

Stephen J. Welka, DO is a cardiovascular disease specialist trained to diagnose and treat diseases of the heart and arteries at Aurora Burlington Clinic in Burlington, Wisconsin.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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