An Aspirin a Day: Benefits and Risks

Aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke may not always be a good option

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Aspirin use is surging among older adults. The question is whether that’s a good thing.

A new nationwide study found that rising numbers of older adults took aspirin daily in the hope that it would help prevent a heart attack or stroke. However, aspirin is not actually recommended to prevent either problem in healthy adults, the authors of this study noted.

And aspirin may even have health risks.

"The use of aspirin is still a very contentious issue among medical experts," said lead study author Dr. Craig D. Williams in a press release. Dr. Williams is a professor at the Oregon State University/Oregon Health & Science University College of Pharmacy and a pharmacotherapy specialist.

Dr. Williams added, "There's no doubt that aspirin use can have value for people who have experienced a first heart attack, stroke or angina. The data to support that is very strong. The support of its use in primary prevention is more of a mixed bag.”

Robert Phipps, RPh, owner of Fowlerville Pharmacy in Fowlerville, MI, told dailyRx News that he sees many patients who take aspirin daily.

"If you have had a stroke or a heart issue then a blood thinner is warranted," he said.

Phipps continued, "The stomach issues are always the primary concern as stomach bleeding is a concern especially in the elderly and those who drink alcohol."

Aspirin can make the blood less likely to clot. The use of aspirin for prevention, however, is a controversial issue in health care.

In people who have had a heart attack or stroke in the past, aspirin can be beneficial to prevent new problems, according to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA). However, the FDA has also noted that, when used to prevent a first heart attack or stroke, aspirin can cause bleeding.

Some research suggests aspirin may be useful to prevent colon cancer, Dr. Williams and team said.

While the FDA does not recommend it, the US Preventive Services Task Force says aspirin may be appropriate for prevention in people with serious risk factors like high blood pressure or diabetes.

Dr. Williams and colleagues surveyed 2,500 adults between the ages of 45 and 75. These adults were 60 years old on average.

Fifty-two percent of these patients said they used aspirin on a daily basis. The majority of these patients had never had a heart attack or stroke.

An additional 21 percent had also used aspirin at some point for prevention of heart problems, stroke or cancer.

Dr. Williams and colleagues found that patients were more likely to use aspirin for prevention if they had discussed it with their doctors. Those who used aspirin for prevention were also more likely to engage in healthy behaviors like exercise, healthy eating and regular health screenings.

About 20 percent of those who might benefit from aspirin because of past heart attacks or strokes did not use it, Dr. Williams and team found.

Patients should speak with their doctors about whether aspirin is right for them.

This study was published April 16 in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

The Partnership for Prevention and the Council on Aspirin for Health and Prevention funded this research. The latter received funds from Bayer HealthCare, which makes aspirin. Dr. Williams and team disclosed no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
April 16, 2015
Last Updated:
April 21, 2015