Aspirin is a trusted pain reliever, but its powers extend beyond reducing aches, pains, and headaches. Health care providers also advise certain patients to take a daily aspirin to protect their hearts. That might have you wondering:
- Can aspirin prevent a heart attack?
- Should you take aspirin every day?
- And if so, how much?
Aspirin might be helpful for some people, but it’s not necessarily a good choice for everyone. Recent recommendations about daily aspirin therapy have changed, so it’s important to talk to your doctor about its benefits and risks. Here’s what you should know about daily aspirin, including which aspirin is best for heart attacks and potential daily aspirin side effects.
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Can Aspirin Prevent Heart Attack?
Aspirin acts as a blood thinner. It interacts with the way your blood clots and can prevent blood clots from forming in your blood vessels. That might help prevent a heart attack if you have fatty plaque deposits in your arteries, also known as atherosclerosis.
With atherosclerosis, plaques can grow, weaken your vessels, and cause them to rupture. When that happens, blood clots form in your vessels. Clots can block blood flow to your heart, causing a heart attack, or to your brain, causing a stroke.
Which aspirin is best for heart attack?
Your doctor might recommend taking a daily aspirin to reduce blood clotting if you’re at risk of a heart attack or stroke. They’ll often recommend a low dose, or 1 baby aspirin, which is 81 mg, but they might want you to take more.
There’s also evidence that chewable aspirin is helpful during a heart attack. It won’t stop a heart attack if one has already started, but it might prevent further damage to your heart.
If you think you might be having a heart attack, call 911 immediately. They may advise you to chew and swallow 2 to 4 baby aspirins (162 mg to 325 mg) while you’re waiting for help. Time is crucial for a suspected heart attack, and chewing an aspirin before swallowing it helps it get into your bloodstream faster.
Should You Take Aspirin Every Day?
Your health care provider may recommend taking daily low-dose aspirin if:
- You’re between the ages of 40 and 59 and are at high risk of having a first heart attack within the next 10 years. Factors like a family history of heart attack or having diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure increase your risk.
- You’ve had surgery to open blocked arteries or bypass blocked arteries in your heart, even if you haven’t had a heart attack.
- You’ve had a previous heart attack or stroke or you have heart disease.
“When we discuss about conservative approach of prescribing aspirin, we are talking about healthy people without heart disease or stroke and have overall low risk of heart disease, who might have been considering or already taking an aspirin to prevent that heart attack or stroke in the first place,” said Neil Patel, cardiologist, UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute in Central Pa., “The new recommendation doesn’t apply to people who already have heart attack or stroke or who have bypass surgery or a procedure to insert a stent in their coronary arteries.”
However, daily aspirin isn’t recommended for adults who have a low risk of heart attack or stroke. And for people over 75, it might cause more harm than good. If you’ve been taking an aspirin every day, talk to your doctor to see if you should continue or stop it.
Daily Aspirin Side Effects and Risks
Doctors no longer routinely recommend daily aspirin for everyone because it increases the risk of bleeding in your digestive tract and brain. That risk is highest in people who:
- Are older, over the age of 75.
- Have a history of GI conditions like ulcers or inflammatory bowel disease.
- Have liver disease.
- Have high blood pressure.
- Are smokers.
- Have a bleeding or blood clotting disorder that causes you to bleed easily.
If you have these bleeding risks, daily aspirin use might increase your chances of bleeding in your stomach or intestines. And it might increase the risk of bleeding from a stroke caused by a burst blood vessel. That’s why it’s crucial to talk to your health care provider to weigh the pros and cons.
You should also be aware that aspirin can interact with certain medicines, supplements, and herbs and further increase bleeding risk. Some of these medicines include:
- Blood thinner medications (anticoagulants) like Warfarin, Eliquis, Xarelto, Pradaxa, or Heparin.
- Antiplatelet drugs like Plavix, Brilinta, or Prasugrel.
- Corticosteroids like prednisone.
- Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) pain relievers like ibuprofen or naproxen.
- Omega-3 supplements (fish oil).
- Herbal remedies like ginkgo or kava.
Make sure your doctor is aware of all your medications and supplements. That way, they can manage the dose and watch out for interactions if you’re taking aspirin.
U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Aspirin Use to Prevent Cardiovascular Disease: Preventive Medication. LINK
The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.