Aspirin is an important and commonly taken medication for people with cardiovascular disease like heart attacks or stroke, but should you be taking aspirin every day if you are otherwise fit and healthy?
Many people think that taking an aspirin every day is generally good for your health. But what does aspirin do and is it safe to take aspirin every day?
How does aspirin work?
Aspirin works to ‘thin’ the blood by inhibiting platelets – cells in the blood that are part of the body’s natural clotting mechanism. Specifically, aspirin blocks an enzyme called cyclooxygenase which is important for causing platelets to clump together and form a clot.
Who should take aspirin every day?
The answer: not everybody. People who have suffered heart attacks, who have peripheral arterial disease, or who have suffered certain types of strokes, should generally take low-dose (75mg) aspirin every day.
This helps to reduce the risk of blood clots and significantly reduces the chance of further heart attacks or strokes.
It is particularly important if someone has had stents put into their coronary arteries after a heart attack as these are more prone to clotting than the native artery.
What are the side effects of aspirin?
The most common side effects of taking aspirin daily are increased risks of minor bleeding. Most commonly these occur in the stomach or bowel. Rarely, these bleeds can become serious and cause significant blood loss into the bowels, causing abdominal pain, vomiting, and passing blood or black tarry stools. This is a medical emergency and requires urgent intervention.
Some people cannot take aspirin at all. A proportion of people with asthma find that aspirin can in fact trigger their asthma, and so it is avoided if at all possible.
Should you take aspirin during pregnancy?
Some pregnant women will be advised to take low-dose aspirin during pregnancy. Usually this is to help prevent serious complications of pregnancy like pre-eclampsia or reduce the risk of miscarriage for women who have had several previous miscarriages in previous pregnancies. Aspirin has no effect on fertility, but you should always check with a medical professional (such as your obstetrician, GP, or midwife) whether it is right for you.
Should you take aspirin every day?
Deciding which medications to take is all about balancing the benefits of the medication against its risks.
For otherwise healthy individuals, it is currently not recommended to take daily aspirin to prevent blood clots, as studies have shown that the risk of side effects outweighs any benefits.
However, the scales tip in the other direction for those with cardiovascular disease such as heart attack or stroke, where the benefits certainly outweigh any risks.
And what about taking aspirin every other day? You might think that would provide you with some of the benefits with fewer of the risks. Unfortunately not – studies have shown that the effect is the same and the risks are still greater than the benefits overall.
As always, you should discuss this with a doctor or pharmacist if you before making any changes to your medication.
If you are taking a daily aspirin, why not check out our 5 tips for consistently taking your medications.