While most experts agree that taking a low-dose of aspirin daily helps prevent heart attacks by keeping clots from forming, the latest research shows that a serious side effect -- increased risk for bleeding -- may negate the benefits.
A review of 13 studies on nearly 165,000 adults without heart disease and a mean age of 62, showed that five years of taking aspirin every day increased virtually the same percentage of major bleeding episodes as it reduced the incidence of heart attacks. The results were published in last month’s Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA).
“This means that the number of lives that were saved by aspirin decreasing clotting to cause heart attacks was not better than the number of lives that we lost by aspirin causing bleeding to trigger strokes and stomach bleeds,” Dr. Gabe Mirkin, author of “The Healthy Heart Miracle,” says.
“The absolute risk reduction of fatal and non-fatal heart attacks and strokes was 0.38 percent, compared to the increased risk of 0.47 percent for a major bleeding into the brain or gastrointestinal tract.”
Another blockbuster study backs up this research. It showed that the number of diabetic lives saved from heart attacks and clotting strokes by taking daily aspirin was also offset by the number of diabetics who died from major bleeding into the brain, eyes and stomach according to the New England Journal of Medicine.
Mirkin says that taking a daily aspirin for three years is associated with a small reduction in heart attacks only in people who have had previous heart attacks, and the people most likely to benefit are those aged 50 to 70 years.
The American Heart Association recommends that you take daily aspirin only if your chances of developing a heart attack in the next 10 years is more than five percent. The AHA does not recommend that most people over the age of 70 take aspirin regularly because of the increased risk of bleeding.
People who may benefit from taking aspirin are those with the following risk factors:
- A previous heart attack or stroke
- Previous bypass surgery
- Angina or chest pain due to coronary artery disease
- Diabetes and at least one other risk factor such as hypertension or smoking
- A stent in your arteries leading to your heart. Stents increase the risk of clots and almost all patients with stents are prescribed some sort of anti-clotting medication.
- High cholesterol, triglycerides, or blood pressure.
Mirkin says you should not start aspirin therapy without consulting with your doctor, especially if you are at increased risk for bleeding for any reason, drink alcohol, engage in activities that may cause head trauma, or are allergic to aspirin.
On the flip side, never stop taking aspirin suddenly.
“You can suffer rebound increased risk which puts you at a greater risk for a heart attack,” says the expert. “If you are going to stop taking aspirin, your doctor will tell you how to gradually taper your dose.”