Millions of people take a daily aspirin for heart health. But they might not need to. Aspirin is a blood thinner that can help prevent clots, which may lead to a heart attack or stroke. On the other hand, aspirin also boosts the risk of hemorrhage in the brain, stomach, and intestines.

A study at the University of Alberta examined 10 studies involving
a total of more than 164,000 people with an average age of 62. In comparing aspirin users to those who don’t take aspirin, researchers found “significant reductions” in strokes, heart attacks and deaths from cardiovascular disease among those who took aspirin.

However, aspirin use was also linked to an increased risk of “major bleeding events compared with no aspirin,” said the study. Statistically, the benefits were close to the risks.

In the U.S., about 29 million people ages 40 and older took an aspirin a day in 2017, despite not having heart disease—according to a study published by Harvard University and Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center published this past July.

The study found that around 6.6 million of those people took a daily aspirin even though a doctor never recommended it to them. Nearly 10 million people older than 70 who didn’t have heart disease took daily aspirin for prevention, said the reports in Annals of Internal Medicine.

So should you be taking aspirin? Or not? What do the experts say?

A study published this year in the journal JAMA Neurology found that taking low-dose aspirin is associated with an increased risk for bleeding within the skull for people without heart disease.

Heart disease is the top killer of people worldwide, taking
17.9 million lives around the planet each year for one-third of all deaths, according to the World Health Organization.

World Health Organization (WHO)

The studies run counter to what doctors had recommended for decades: taking 75 to 100mg of aspirin daily to prevent strokes or heart attacks.

The studies prompted the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology to change their guidelines last March:

• People over 70 who don’t have heart disease—or are younger but at increased risk of bleeding, should avoid daily aspirin for prevention.

• Only certain 40–70-year-olds who don’t have heart disease are at high enough risk to warrant 75 to 100mgs of aspirin daily—and that’s for a doctor to decide.

“Clinicians should be very selective in prescribing aspirin for people without known cardiovascular disease,” says cardiologist Roger Blumenthal. “It’s much more important to optimize lifestyle habits and control blood pressure and cholesterol as opposed to recommending aspirin.” People without a history of heart problems should not take routine aspirin—but it is still recommended for heart attack survivors.

The Canadian Heart and Stroke Foundation says that prevention is key. Exercising daily, maintaining a healthy weight, avoiding tobacco, managing stress, and eating a diet rich in vegetables and low in sugar and trans fats are some of the best ways to prevent cardiovascular disease.

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Author: Charmaine Millaire was an editor for Optimyz Magazine. She is a graduate of King’s School of Journalism in Halifax, Nova Scotia and an accomplished writer.

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