Daily aspirin therapy may lower your risk of heart attack, but daily aspirin therapy isn't for everyone. Is it right for you?
If you've had a heart attack or stroke, your doctor will likely recommend you take a daily aspirin unless you have a serious allergy or history of bleeding. If you have a high risk of having a first heart attack, your doctor might recommend aspirin after weighing the risks and benefits.
You shouldn't start daily aspirin therapy on your own, however. While taking an occasional aspirin or two is safe for most adults to use for headaches, body aches or fever, daily use of aspirin can have serious side effects, including internal bleeding.
How can aspirin prevent a heart attack?
Aspirin interferes with your blood's clotting action. When you bleed, your blood's clotting cells, called platelets, build up at the site of your wound. The platelets help form a plug that seals the opening in your blood vessel to stop bleeding.
But this clotting can also happen within the vessels that supply your heart with blood. If your blood vessels are already narrowed from atherosclerosis — the buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries — a fatty deposit in your vessel lining can burst.
Then, a blood clot can quickly form and block the artery. This prevents blood flow to the heart and causes a heart attack. Aspirin therapy reduces the clumping action of platelets — possibly preventing a heart attack.
Should you take a daily aspirin?
Talk with your doctor about whether daily aspirin therapy might help you prevent a heart attack. Your doctor may suggest daily aspirin therapy if:
- You've already had a heart attack or stroke
- You haven't had a heart attack, but you have had a stent placed in a coronary artery, you have had coronary bypass surgery, or you have chest pain due to coronary artery disease (angina)
- You've never had a heart attack, but you're at high risk of having one
- You have diabetes and at least one other heart disease risk factor — such as smoking or high blood pressure — and you're a man older than 50 or a woman older than 60
Guidelines are varied between organizations, but they're evolving as more research is done. The benefits of daily aspirin therapy don't outweigh the risk of bleeding in people with a low risk of heart attacks. The higher your risk of heart attack, the more likely it is that the benefits of daily aspirin outweigh the risk of bleeding.
In women, daily aspirin therapy may be more effective at preventing strokes than heart attacks. The bottom line is that before taking a daily aspirin you should have a discussion with your doctor.
Should you avoid daily aspirin therapy if you have another health condition?
Before starting daily aspirin therapy under the advice of your doctor, you should let him or her know if you have a health condition that could increase your risk of bleeding or other complications. These conditions include:
- A bleeding or clotting disorder (bleeding easily)
- Aspirin allergy, which can include asthma caused by aspirin
- Bleeding stomach ulcers
What are the possible side effects of daily aspirin therapy?
Side effects and complications of taking aspirin include:
- Stroke caused by a burst blood vessel. While daily aspirin can help prevent a clot-related stroke, it may increase your risk of a bleeding stroke (hemorrhagic stroke).
- Gastrointestinal bleeding. Daily aspirin use increases your risk of developing a stomach ulcer. And, if you have a bleeding ulcer or bleeding anywhere else in your gastrointestinal tract, taking aspirin will cause it to bleed more, perhaps to a life-threatening extent.
- Allergic reaction. If you're allergic to aspirin, taking any amount of aspirin can trigger a serious allergic reaction.
If you take daily aspirin, is it still safe to take an aspirin during a heart attack?
If you think you're having a heart attack, the most important thing for you to do is call 911 or emergency medical services. Don't delay calling for help. Aspirin alone won't save your life if you're having a heart attack.
The operator may advise you to chew an aspirin, but will first ask questions to make sure you're not allergic to aspirin or have any other health conditions that would make taking an aspirin during a heart attack too risky. It's OK to chew an aspirin if your doctor has previously told you to do so if you think you're having a heart attack — but call 911 or emergency medical services first.