Daily aspirin is used by many middle-aged people for health benefits in hopes of reducing the chance of a heart attack or stroke. In fact, consumers bought more than 44 million packages of low-dose aspirin last year. However, medical experts now say healthy people who are taking the drug regularly should think about scaling back.
“Not everybody needs to take aspirin,” Sidney Smith, a professor at the University of North Carolina, said in a statement. She is leading the new National Institutes of Health effort to compile treatment recommendations on cardiovascular-disease prevention.
Aspirin has side effects that now concern health experts. What they recommend is if you’re healthy and are taking aspirin to prevent a heart attack or stroke, you should scale back. The recommendations now only target a group of patients who are already at risk.
The primary concern the side effects that are caused by the drug outweigh the potential benefits when taken by healthy or older people. One side effect is bleeding ulcers in the stomach. Physicians generally agree that most patients who have already suffered a heart attack or stroke should take a daily low-dose aspirin.
The guidelines suggest aspirin for certain men from 45 to 79 years old with elevated heart-disease risk because of factors like cholesterol levels and smoking. For women, the guidelines don’t focus on heart risk, the task force recommends certain women should take it regularly if they are 55 to 79 and are in danger of having an ischemic stroke. This also includes women with high blood pressure and diabetes.
Heart Attack and Stroke Prevention
Several studies among men have shown that aspirin can prevent a first heart attack in people who have no signs or symptoms of cardiovascular disease. However, these studies could not detect the effects of aspirin on the risk of stroke and death related to cardiovascular disease. In one trial of women, aspirin reduced the risk of a first stroke and also decreased the risk of a first heart attack among those age 65 and over.
The risk of a first heart attack or stroke in healthy men and women is quite low. As a result, the benefit of reducing the risk of a first heart attack must be weighed against potential risks, such as gastrointestinal bleeding and other side effects. The recommended daily dose of aspirin for prevention of heart attack and stroke is between 75 and 100 mg.
During a Heart Attack
Aspirin can be life-saving for people who are actively having a heart attack. Health care providers recommend that anyone who believes they may be having a heart attack should immediately take 162 to 325 mg of aspirin. This about one half to one whole adult aspirin tablet.
Aspirin has two primary side effects. It can cause stomach upset such as nausea, vomiting, heartburn, stomach pain, or ulcers. It can also increase bleeding in the body.
In one large study, approximately 4 percent of all people who took 300 mg daily for 5 years noted stomach upset. To help prevent stomach upset, it should be taken with food. People with a history of ulcers or stomach upset while taking aspirin or other NSAIDs should talk with a healthcare provider before starting.