03/13/2015 05:12 pm ET | Updated May 13, 2015

An Aspirin a Day: Is the Benefit Worth the Risk?


Studies have shown that aspirin, the age old remedy for pain and fever, also thins the blood. Because of this property, it can also help to lower the chances of a heart attack or a stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain. And, although research has found that it only works in certain people (specifically, those with a history of heart attack or stroke) many Americans are inappropriately taking daily, low doses of aspirin as a preventative measure. In fact, researchers have found that about 12 percent of the of nearly 69,000 U.S. adults taking aspirin on a long-term basis should not have received the prescription in the first place. Dr. Ravi Hira, cardiologist at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston as well as the study's head researcher, said that the group's odds of suffering a heart attack or stroke were not high enough (6 percent or higher within 10 years) to outweigh the risks of daily aspirin use.

So, while aspirin may seem like a quick-and-easy way to decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke, it's not quite as simple as you might think.

Risks of Daily Aspirin Use If you are healthy and have never suffered a heart attack or stroke, using aspirin to prevent these events is unnecessary and, worse, may put your health at risk for the following reasons:

  • The same properties that make aspirin work as a blood thinner may also cause unwanted side effects such as bleeding into the brain or stomach.
  • Aspirin can mix badly with prescription medicines as well as some over-the-counter drugs.
  • Too much aspirin can increase bleeding during medical or dental procedures.
  • You could develop aspirin allergies or intolerance.

These side effects, while not common, can be life-threatening. People already using a blood thinning medication (such as warfarin, dabigatran or rivaroxaban) should always consult with a health professional before using aspirin, even occasionally. And, if your health care provider does prescribe aspirin on a long-term basis, read labels carefully to make sure you have the right product. Some drugs combine aspirin with other pain relievers or ingredients that should not be used as part of long-term aspirin therapy.

What Factors Should Be Considered?

  • Doctors should take into account patients' risk factors for cardiovascular problems, including diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking. These should be weighed against the risk of bleeding.
  • People with a history of stomach ulcer, for example, increase their risk of gastrointestinal bleeding by a factor of three, compared to those who have never had an ulcer.

The bottom line is this: The idea of protecting the heart by simply popping a pill every day sounds a lot easier than changing your lifestyle. Keeping weight within a healthy range, eating right and getting regular exercise are great ways to maintain a healthy heart. If you have a history of heart disease, heart attack or stroke, daily aspirin may be right for you, but this isn't something to be taken lightly. Be smart and be safe. Talk to your doctor.

Elizabeth Chabner Thompson, MD, MPH, is a radiation oncologist and founder of BFFL Co (Best Friends for Life), which provides a wide range of products for patients undergoing various surgical procedures or cancer treatments (click here). One such product is the Axillapilla post-surgery pillow featured on the Katie Couric Show (click here).This heart-shaped pillow provides support and stability for a patient recovering from surgery, especially cardiac surgery.