The Richmond Register

Lifestyles & Community

June 2, 2014

Low-dose aspirin not healthy for healthy people

RICHMOND — Many people, including myself, have been taking a daily low-dose aspirin in an attempt to prevent a first heart attack.

A recent announcement from the Food and Drug Administration says that’s a bad idea.

The agency reviewed a number of studies on the effects of aspirin on heart attack and stroke prevention and found that among people who had never had either one, there was little evidence the practice is effective.

Specifically, they cited potential bleeding problems in the stomach and the brain (bleeding in the brain can trigger a stroke) caused by too much of the drug.

Even people with diabetes or peripheral vascular disease (a disease of the arteries and veins outside the heart and brain), both of which elevate the risk of cardiovascular problems, didn’t see a benefit from a daily low-dose aspirin.

The FDA still recommends aspirin for people who have already had a heart attack or stroke because the risks of bleeding are outweighed by the benefits of taking the drug.

Ironically, the agency’s announcement was precipitated by a request from Bayer, the manufacturer of the most widely sold brand of aspirin. Bayer was hoping to post a recommendation from the FDA that aspirin be used as a primary prevention (in people who have never had heart attack or stroke) in the literature they give to physicians. After reviewing the evidence, the FDA denied the request.

American Heart Association spokesperson Richard Stein, M.D., said, “In selected people at high risk for heart attacks, aspirin is of value to take, but aspirin has been heavily marketed to consumers as a way to stave off heart problems. Anyone can walk into a drugstore and see a bottle of Bayer’s aspirin with a heart on it. But there’s no evidence that giving it to low-risk people will lower the heart attack rate.”

Stein added, “The worry is that people are starting to put aspirin in the world of vitamins, that if you’re worried about your heart, you should just take it every day. I don’t think that physicians are prescribing low-dose aspirin for low-risk people. With all the marketing advertising, most of the abuse among low-risk people is of their own decision.”

Considering the way aspirin works, that’s risky business. It prevents blood from clotting which, for heart benefits, is helpful in that it prevents blood from clotting and platelets from sticking to plaques that form on artery walls.

The problem occurs when your body bleeds in other places, like the lining of your stomach or a vessel in your brain.

“The same clotting isn’t there to stop the bleeding, because the aspirin is interfering with that process,” said Klein. The result is severe stomach bleeding or a hemorrhagic stroke, which can be fatal.

So now I’m off the daily low-dose aspirin. Consult your physician if you’re not sure you should be taking low-dose aspirin.


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