If you are having a heart attack, chewing a full-strength aspirin tablet can be a lifesaving move. If you have heart disease, have had a heart attack or stroke, or are at very high risk for having one, taking a low-dose aspirin every day is part of a proven strategy for preventing one of these life-changers. Aspirin makes blood platelets less “sticky”. This limits the formation of clots in the bloodstream, which can trigger heart attacks and strokes. But what if you are relatively healthy? Will taking aspirin help you keep heart attack, stroke, and other forms of cardiovascular disease at bay?
Aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) has been used for many years as a painkiller. It has an anti-inflammatory action, and is used to relieve headache, menstrual pain and muscle aches. More recently it has been given to patients with known cardiovascular disease risk factors to reduce their chance of stroke and heart attack. It works by helping to prevent blood clots forming in the blood vessels, by stopping cells in the blood known as platelets from sticking together and clogging an artery.
A wealth of evidence already suggests aspirin might prevent certain cancers from developing in the first place. And more recent work suggests it might also work as a cancer therapy – slowing down or preventing a cancer’s spread. Taking daily low-dose pills for just three years can reduce your risk of cancer by about a quarter – 23 % for men and 25 % for women. The risk of dying of cancer is cut by 15 % – and by 37 % for those who take aspirin for longer than five years. Many people take a low 75-milligram dose of aspirin each day to guard against heart attacks and strokes.
Experts advise against this for people who are at no special risk of heart and artery disease because of the possible long-term side-effects of aspirin. The drug, which prevents blood clotting, can increase the likelihood of internal bleeding in the stomach, intestines and brain. That is why it is so important for patients to understand their bleeding risk before starting treatment.
You should take a daily aspirin only if your doctor advises you to do so. If you have had a heart attack or stroke, your doctor will likely recommend you take a daily aspirin unless you have a serious allergy or history of bleeding. If you have a high risk of having a first heart attack, your doctor might recommend aspirin after weighing the risks and benefits. You shouldn’t start daily aspirin therapy on your own without first consulting your health practitioner.