- Many people take daily aspirin under the mistaken impression it will help their heart.
- But taking the drug every day can also increase the risk of bleeding and other cardiovascular issues.
- Experts say you should consult with a doctor about whether or not daily aspirin use is safe and recommended for you.
For many years, healthcare providers recommended daily use of aspirin to help prevent heart attacks and stroke in people who have a higher risk for developing cardiovascular disease.
Then, in 2018, three studies shed light on the fact that aspirin isn’t always beneficial for our health and can be associated with a higher risk of severe bleeding.
However, despite these findings, the idea that aspirin can help our heart health, especially for seniors, has lingered.
And now new research from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has found that millions of American adults still take aspirin every day, regardless of whether their physician recommends it or not.
These findings contradict the current American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology guidelines, which explicitly state that adults older than 70 who haven’t had a heart attack and people who have a higher bleeding risk shouldn’t take aspirin.
While aspirin can benefit people who have had a heart attack or stroke, it’s crucial for everyone to consult their doctor regarding whether or not they should be taking aspirin.
“Medical decision regarding aspirin therapy has to take into account several factors, such as patients’ age, their prior history of heart disease, risk of bleeding, and concomitant use of other blood thinners. The bottom line is, have a discussion with your physician whether you would benefit from aspirin therapy,” Dr. Aditya Bharadwaj, an interventional cardiologist with Loma Linda University International Heart Institute, told Healthline.
To understand just how widespread aspirin use is, the researchers looked at the health data of 14,328 adults from the 2017 National Health Interview Survey.
The team assessed the participants’ responses for three questions:
- if a doctor or health professional ever recommended they take low-dose aspirin each day to manage heart disease
- if they’re now following this advice
- if they’re taking low-dose aspirin on their own to prevent or control heart disease
The study found that about 23 percent, or 29 million people, reported taking daily aspirin to prevent heart disease.
Of them, nearly 23 percent, or 6.6 million, take the pills each day without a physician’s recommendation.
On top of that, about half of U.S. adults 70 and older who don’t have heart disease reported they take aspirin daily.
Seeing as so many people across the United States are taking aspirin without their doctor’s input, healthcare practitioners need to ask their patients if they use aspirin, the researchers suggest.
In addition, they should educate their patients about the benefits and risks of aspirin use, especially with older adults and those who’ve had peptic ulcer disease.
“As simple and innocuous as an aspirin tablet seems, its actions in the human body are complex, and its effects can bring both significant benefit and harm,” said Dr. David Cutler, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center.
Although aspirin can prevent clotting and, therefore, prevent strokes and heart attacks, it can also result in dangerous bleeding and other side effects, Cutler adds.
In addition to bleeding in the gastrointestinal tract, daily aspirin therapy can increase the risk of a bleeding stroke. It can also cause a severe allergic reaction in some people.
This is especially worrisome for people who are 70 and older, health experts say.
“Elderly patients are at a higher risk of bleeding and peptic ulcers. The risk of these side effects increases significantly if patients are concomitantly taking other blood thinners (such as warfarin, clopidogrel), NSAID painkillers (like ibuprofen or naproxen), or steroids,” Bharadwaj said.
All that said, certain people can benefit from taking aspirin, according to health experts.
For example, if you’ve had a stroke or a heart attack, doctors still recommend taking aspirin.
In addition, those who have high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol, or coronary stents may potentially benefit from aspirin use as well, as the benefits may outweigh the risks, according to Dr. Robert Greenfield, a cardiologist, lipidologist, and medical director of noninvasive cardiology and cardiac rehabilitation at MemorialCare Heart & Vascular Institute.
Still, it’s important to check in with your cardiologist to ensure it’s safe for you to take aspirin.
Medical care needs to be individualized and personal, says Greenfield.
“Although there are guidelines for the use of many agents, including aspirin, we always must remember that clinical judgement remains necessary,” Greenfield said.
New research from the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center has found that millions of U.S. adults are currently taking aspirin each day despite the fact that current guidelines advise against aspirin use for older adults who don’t have heart disease.
Because aspirin use can cause serious side effects in some people, such as dangerous bleeding, it’s crucial for doctors to ask their patients whether or not they take the pill and educate them on the potential risks and benefits.