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Heart Disease Health Center

Aspirin Therapy: Right for Your Heart?

Daily aspirin helps many, but age, gender, and heart disease risks play a part. Is it right for you?
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Your Heart Disease Risk and Aspirin Therapy continued...

Certain conditions increase the likelihood of heart attacks and strokes. If you fit in this category, there's little argument: an aspirin a day helps keep trouble away.

High Risk Men and Women Who May Want Aspirin Therapy

You're considered at high risk if you have:

  • A prior heart attack or stroke caused by a blood clot
  • Known blockages or narrowing of arteries (atherosclerosis) in the heart, neck, or legs
  • Diabetes
  • Family history of heart disease
  • Multiple risk factors, such as high blood pressure, smoking, obesity, and elevated cholesterol levels and low "good" HDL cholesterol

"For people with known heart disease, it's clear that they benefit from being on an aspirin," says Jacobson, yet "people shouldn't start taking it on their own." Talking to a doctor first is essential to make sure you're not at increased risk of bleeding.

Very Low-Risk Men and Women Who May Not Want Aspirin Therapy

Low-risk people include men under 40 and women under 50. While it helps to know that aspirin does reduce healthy people's risk of heart disease and stroke, their risk is low to begin with. And daily aspirin may increase their risk of internal bleeding. For example, if 1,000 healthy people took an aspirin daily for about six years:

  • Daily aspirin would prevent three or four serious cardiovascular events (heart attacks, strokes, or heart disease deaths).
  • However, aspirin would cause about three life-threatening gastrointestinal bleeds.

Unless you have risk factors for heart disease, an aspirin won't help, and may do harm. Talk to a doctor before taking daily aspirin -- because you probably shouldn't.

Low to Medium Risk: Your Choice on Aspirin Therapy

So people at high risk should take an aspirin, and people at very low risk shouldn't. What about everyone in between -- the vast majority of us?

The answer is: it depends. Jacobson suggests putting this question to your doctor: Am I at high enough cardiovascular risk to justify taking an aspirin, even with the small but real risk of significant bleeding?

"The more risk factors that you have, the greater the chance that you will benefit" from daily aspirin, Jacobson tells WebMD.

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