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Aspirin to Prevent Stroke or Heart Attack

Find out if aspirin is right for you for prevention of heart attack or certain types of stroke.

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You may have heard that an aspirin taken every day can help lower the risk of heart attack and some types of stroke. Aspirin is inexpensive and available almost anywhere. It is sometimes called baby aspirin in a lower dose and is available over the counter. Why not take a daily aspirin to lower the risk of heart attack for men and lower the risk of stroke for women? It may not be right for you. Here’s why.

Always talk to your doctor first

Aspirin may seem simple and safe. But aspirin is like all medicines. It is complex and can have unwanted side effects. Talk with your doctor before taking aspirin every day — do not start taking it on your own. Your doctor can decide whether a daily aspirin is right for you. He or she will look at your health, age, history of heart disease and the medications you’re already taking.

Aspirin’s risks

Aspirin has its benefits, but it also poses risks. Aspirin interferes with the blood’s ability to clot. This can result in bleeding in the stomach or the brain for some people. Don’t take aspirin if you are having bleeding in your stomach or are at risk for bleeding — or if you are taking other anti-inflammatory medicine. Also avoid taking aspirin if you have an aspirin allergy.

Aspirin may cause problems if you have certain conditions or if you mix it with your other medications, including anticoagulants, which already lower your blood’s clotting power. Before you add a daily aspirin, talk with your doctor about all medications, supplements and vitamins you are taking and about any other medical conditions you have. And if you’re scheduled for a medical or dental procedure, let your doctor know well in advance of the procedure. He or she may want to make changes to your medications.

Aspirin and heart disease prevention

Healthy young adults do not need to take a daily aspirin to help prevent heart attack or stroke. However, research shows that aspirin may benefit some people who have had a heart attack or stroke, or who have disease of the blood vessels in the heart.

A daily aspirin may also be helpful for healthy older adults who have not had a heart attack or stroke. Healthy men from ages 45 to 79 may benefit from a daily aspirin to prevent heart attack, but not stroke. On the other hand, a daily aspirin may be helpful to prevent strokes in healthy women ages 55 to 79, but not heart attacks. Again, your doctor will guide you.

Risks for heart attack

The more risk factors you have and the older you are, the greater the chance for you to have a heart attack. Know your risk factors and talk to your doctor about them. Risk factors include:

  • You have had a previous heart attack or a previous stroke.
  • You have diabetes.
  • Your cholesterol is high.
  • You are a smoker.
  • You have high blood pressure.

Aspirin when you already have heart disease

You may benefit from taking aspirin if you’ve been diagnosed with heart disease or coronary artery disease, or you have had chest pain, heart attack or stroke. Your doctor will evaluate your current medications and health to determine if a daily aspirin is right for you.

Watch your dose

It’s important that you follow your doctor’s recommendations for taking aspirin every day. Understand the amount (dose) of aspirin and the type of aspirin you can take. Be aware that there are many different pain relievers today and many do not include aspirin. Others may include aspirin along with other ingredients, or the dose may be wrong for you. Be sure to confirm with your doctor exactly how much and what type of aspirin he or she recommends, and how often you should take it.

By Mary Small, Contributing Writer

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. Talk with your health care provider about taking aspirin to prevent heart attacks. Accessed: December 2, 2015.
U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Drugs. Before using aspirin to lower your risk of heart attack or stroke, here is what you should know. Accessed: December 2, 2015.
American Heart Association. Aspirin and heart disease. Accessed: December 2, 2015.

Last Updated: December 8, 2015