Monday Medical: The risks of taking aspirin daily

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Aspirin is often thought of as one of those harmless over-the-counter drugs that individuals have relied on for years to fight pain, swelling, headache and fever. For many years, it has been reported that daily use of aspirin can lower an individual’s risk of a heart attack, some kinds of strokes and some heart and blood vessel diseases.

Then why not take an aspirin a day?

Although aspirin may seem like a quick and easy preventative measure, recent evidence indicates that it’s not that simple.

Dr. Gerald Myers, a cardiologist with the Heart Center of the Rockies, sounded a note of caution when asked about daily aspirin therapy. He explained that aspirin taken for the prevention of a heart attack or stroke may present more risks than benefits.

“If there is no documented disease, and the individual is taking aspirin as a preventative measure, the risks of bleeding or other negative side effects outweigh the benefits,” Myers said.

In June, the Journal of the American Medical Association published the results of a large-scale Italian study. The study examined more than 370,000 hospitalized patients to learn how aspirin use affected patients with diabetes and those without diabetes.

The researchers found that taking 300 milligrams or less of aspirin increased the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding and brain bleeding. According to the authors of the study, the risks of bleeding were found to be much higher than in previous studies.

However, for individuals who have experienced a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke, research has indicated that the benefits of daily aspirin therapy do exceed the risks, according to Myers.

The American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association recommend that heart attack survivors regularly take low-dose aspirin under the guidance of their health care providers.

According to the American Heart Association, for those with heart disease, daily aspirin therapy can reduce an individual’s overall risk of another cardiovascular event when combined with lifestyle changes and stopping smoking.

Daily aspirin use also has been known to help individuals who have some heart and blood vessel diseases. The use of aspirin can help prevent a heart attack or clot-related stroke by lowering the clotting action of the blood’s platelets.

However, the same properties that cause aspirin to be so effective in stopping blood from clotting also may cause unwanted side effects such as stomach bleeding, bleeding in the brain, kidney failure and other kinds of strokes. As previously noted, the researchers in Italy found an increased risk of bleeding in their large-scale study.

It is also important to know that aspirin is a drug that can mix badly with other medicines (prescription and over the counter). For example, medications that can interact with aspirin include Heparin, Ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin and others), corticosteroids and some antidepressants.

If you already are using a prescribed medication to thin your blood, you should talk to a health professional before using aspirin, even occasionally. You also should discuss the use of all medicines, vitamins and dietary supplements with your health professional.

If your health professional prescribes the use of daily aspirin treatment, you’ll need his or her medical knowledge and guidance to help you prevent unwanted side effects. You also will want to discuss the dose and frequency with your physician.

“As more and more research is completed, we are beginning to understand that this is a complicated issue,” Myers said. “Individuals should be sure to check with their health care provider before starting daily aspirin therapy.”

Rosie Kern is the manager of marketing and communications at Yampa Valley Medical Center. She can be reached at rosie.kern@yvmc.org.

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