Aspirin has been used as a pain reliever for more than 100 years. Since the 1970s, it’s also been used to prevent and manage heart disease and stroke. In fact, a low-dose aspirin each day for at least 10 years can lower your risk of cardiovascular disease by as much as 10%.
However, it does not benefit everyone. Talk to your doctor about whether it is appropriate for you.
How Does It Help the Heart?
It eases inflammation. Plaque may be more likely to cause a heart attack or stroke if it’s inflamed. Aspirin blocks an enzyme called cyclooxygenase. That makes your body less likely to produce chemicals that can help cause inflammation.
It helps prevent blood clots. Some chemicals in the blood trigger events that cause blood clots. When aspirin stops those chemicals, it helps slow the formation of the clots. That’s important because they can clog the arteries that bring blood to heart muscle and the brain, which increases your risk of heart attack and stroke.
It can reduce your risk of death. Taking aspirin regularly can lower your risk of death from all causes, particularly among:
- The elderly
- People with heart disease
- People who are physically unfit
Who Could Benefit?
- People with coronary artery disease or atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)
- Those who have had a heart attack
- People who have had bypass surgery, angioplasty or stent placement to treat heart disease
- Folks who have had a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or ischemic stroke
If you have symptoms of a heart attack, call 911 right away. If you don’t have an aspirin allergy, EMS personnel may ask you to chew one standard, 325-milligram aspirin slowly. It's especially effective if you take it within 30 minutes of your first symptoms.
If you’re at risk for heart disease, carrying an aspirin with you in case of emergency might be a lifesaving technique.
What Are the Risks?
- It can increase your chance of having stomach ulcers and abdominal bleeding.
- During a stroke, aspirin can boost your risk of bleeding into the brain.
What are the Benefits?
- Aspirin can greatly reduce the damage to your heart during a heart attack.
- It can help prevent future heart problems after a heart attack.
- It can reduce your risk of stroke.
Talk to your doctor about the benefits and risks of aspirin therapy before you begin a regular regimen.
How Much Should I Take?
Research says between 80 milligrams and 160 milligrams per day. This is less than half of the standard 325-milligram aspirin most people are prescribed.
Many studies show the lower dose works just as well as the higher dose. It also drops your risk of internal bleeding. A baby aspirin contains 81 milligrams. There are other lower-dose adult aspirins available.
Check with your doctor first to find out what dose is right for you.
How Should I Take It?
First, tell your doctor if you are allergic to aspirin, ibuprofen, or naproxen. If you get the go-ahead to start an aspirin routine, then:
- Don’t take it on an empty stomach. Take aspirin with a full glass of water with meals or after meals to prevent stomach upset.
- Don’t break, crush, or chew extended-release tablets or capsules -- swallow them whole. Chewable aspirin tablets may be chewed, crushed, or dissolved in a liquid.
- Aspirin should never be taken in place of other medications or treatments recommended by your doctor.
- Never take it with alcohol. That increases your chance of stomach bleeding.
Ask your doctor what other medicines you can take for pain relief or minor colds while you take aspirin. Read the labels of all pain relievers and cold products to make sure they’re aspirin-free. Other drugs with aspirin or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may cause bleeding when taken with your regular aspirin therapy.
Before any surgery, dental procedure, or emergency treatment, tell the doctor or dentist that you’re taking aspirin. You might need to stop taking it for 5 to 7 days before your procedure.
However, don’t stop taking this medicine without first consulting with your doctor.
Are There Side Effects?
Yes. Some common ones include:
Call your doctor if any of these become severe or do not go away.
Contact them right away if you have:
- Severe stomach pain or heartburn
- Serious nausea or vomiting
- Blood in the urine or stool
- Any unusual bruising
- Heavy bleeding from cuts
- Black, tarry stools
- Coughing up blood
- Heavy menstrual bleeding or unexpected vaginal bleeding
- Vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- Facial swelling
- An asthma attack
- Ringing in the ears
- Severe headache
Who Shouldn't Take Aspirin?
- Children younger than age 18 who are recovering from a viral infection such as the flu or chickenpox should not take aspirin.
- Pregnant women (unless otherwise directed by your doctor)
- People about to have surgery
- Heavy drinkers
- Those with ulcers or any other bleeding problem
- Folks who take regular doses of other pain medications, such as Motrin (unless otherwise directed by your doctor)
- People allergic to aspirin
Talk with your doctor about whether aspirin might be a good idea for you.