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Why Healthy People Shouldn’t Take Aspirin for Their Hearts

People who take aspirin are less likely to have blood clots that cause heart attacks or strokes. On the other hand, they are more prone to severe bleeding.

Taking low-dose aspirin used to be considered an easy way to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease. Doctors may still recommend this treatment for people with heart disease. However, a new analysis suggests that healthy individuals probably should not take aspirin to protect their hearts.

Why Not Take Aspirin for Your Heart?

The researchers looked at the results of 67 meta-analyses of both observational studies and controlled trials covering nearly 12,000 participants (British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, June 2, 2020). The pros and cons of aspirin are both related to its anticlotting activity. It keeps blood platelets from sticking together.

Although the investigators concluded that aspirin can lower risk of a heart attack or stroke, they found that it increases the risk of bleeding. Hemorrhages in the digestive tract (bleeding ulcers, for example) or the brain can be lethal.

The analysis showed that newer medications may do a better job of preventing cardiovascular disease. Unfortunately, they also carry a higher possibility of dangerous bleeding.

Do These Conclusions Apply to You?

As you decide whether or not you should take aspirin, talk with your healthcare provider about your risk for cardiovascular complications. The people in these studies did not have heart disease. For them, the risks of aspirin and other anticoagulant drugs were greater than the benefits. But people who have heart disease might benefit if they take aspirin. That is an assessment they should undertake with their doctors so that both pros and cons can be carefully weighed in context.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies..
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  • Veronese N et al, "Effect of low‐dose aspirin on health outcomes: An umbrella review of systematic reviews and meta‐analyses." British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, June 2, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1111/bcp.14310
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