Aspirin and Your Heart: Should You or Shouldn’t You?

In addition to taking aspirin to relieve pain and fever, millions of Americans take a low-dose or “baby” aspirin daily to reduce their risk for heart attack and stroke.

Should you join in? Probably not, unless you have your doctor's OK. That's because the benefits may not outweigh the increased risk for bleeding in people who are at low risk for heart attack or stroke.

The answers to the following questions can help you understand the risks and benefits of aspirin.

Q. What are the different uses for aspirin?

A. Aspirin is prescribed for these conditions:

  • Heart attack. Taking a regular-strength aspirin tablet reduces the risk for death if taken as soon as a heart attack is suspected. However, the benefits of aspirin extend much further, and most doctors now prescribe lifelong aspirin therapy to all people after a heart attack.

  • Recurrent heart attack or angina. People who have had a previous heart attack or who suffer from chest pain can reduce their chance for these conditions by taking aspirin.

  • Stroke prevention. Regular aspirin use can help to prevent a stroke in people who have had a transient ischemic attack — a ministroke. Aspirin also helps to prevent a second stroke.

  • Pain relief. Aspirin relieves arthritis and other aches and pains.

Q. If stroke runs in my family, should I take a “baby” aspirin daily?

A. Not necessarily. Only your doctor can determine if aspirin is right for you. Depending on the kind of stroke you are at risk for, aspirin could help or harm you.

Q. What are the risks of taking aspirin?

A.  Some of the risks include possible bleeding in the brain and stomach, and asthma attack in people who are allergic to aspirin.

In addition, people who have asthma, high blood pressure, or liver or kidney disease, or who take blood thinners shouldn’t take aspirin without first consulting their doctor.

Aspirin is a drug, and it has risks and benefits like any other drug. It is not appropriate for everyone.