Taking Daily Aspirin to Prevent Heart Attack and Stroke Has Risks

Only a health care provider can determine whether regular use of aspirin will help to prevent a heart attack or stroke in a patient’s particular case. Aspirin can prevent these problems in some people but not in everyone, and it has important side effects. A patient should use daily aspirin therapy only after first talking to a health care provider, who can weigh the benefits and the risks.


Since aspirin was discovered more than a century ago, it has played a major role in treating headaches, fevers, and minor aches and pains for millions of people. Now studies show that because aspirin thins the blood, it can also help to lower the chances of a heart attack or a stroke caused by a blood clot in the brain. But research has found it works only in certain people, specifically those who had a previous heart attack or stroke, or have a disease of the blood vessels in the heart. It does not seem to work in people with healthier hearts and blood vessels.


Most health professionals agree that long-term aspirin use to prevent a heart attack or stroke in healthy people is unnecessary. If a patient is using aspirin to lower these risks and has not talked with a health professional, the patient may be putting his or her health at risk. The patient should only use daily aspirin therapy under the guidance of a health care provider.


Aspirin has been known to help people living with some diseases of the heart and blood vessels. It can help prevent a heart attack or clot-related stroke by interfering with how the blood clots. But the same properties that make aspirin work as a blood thinner to stop it from clotting may also cause unwanted side effects, including bleeding into the brain or stomach.


Aspirin also can mix badly with prescription medicines and over-the-counter drugs. People already using a prescription medicine that thins the blood such as warfarin, dabigatran (Pradaxa), and rivaroxaban (Xarelto) should talk to a health professional before using aspirin, even occasionally.


Whatever purpose the patient is using daily aspirin for and how much the patient takes matters. It is important to the patient’s health and safety that the dose used and how often it is taken is correct for the patient. A health professional can tell the patient the dosing and directions that will provide the greatest benefit with the least side effects.


Not all over-the-counter pain relievers contain aspirin. If a health care provider prescribes daily aspirin to lower the risk of a heart attack and clot-related stroke, the patient must read the labels carefully to make sure the patient has the right product. Some drugs combine aspirin with other pain relievers or other ingredients and should not be used for long-term aspirin therapy.


See the FDA Announcement


See also Medical Law Perspectives, December 2013 Report: Thicker Than Water: Liability When Blood Clots Cause Injury or Death


See also Medical Law Perspectives, November 2013 Report: Diagnosis and Treatment of Heart Attacks: Liability Issues


See also Medical Law Perspectives, October 2013 Report: Brain Aneurysm and Subarachnoid Hemorrhage: Failure to Diagnose, Delayed Diagnosis, Misdiagnosis


See also Medical Law Perspectives, May 2013 Report: Drugs, Dosage, and Damage: Physician Liability for Prescribing or Administering Medication