Aspirin: Right for Some, But Not for All

Cardiovascular disease patients can benefit from aspirin but it may not be good for everyone

April 8, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Many people take aspirin to ward off heart trouble. While it may help those with cardiovascular disease, it may not benefit those who are at low risk of heart trouble.

Aspirin helps blood clots from forming, and patients who have had a heart attack or stroke have been shown to benefit from it.

However, researchers recently reported aspirin may not be helpful for those who are at low risk of cardiovascular trouble, and many patients are taking the medication without the advice of a doctor.

"Consult a pharmacists before taking aspirin regularly."

Michael Kolber, MD, associate professor at the University of Alberta Department of Family Medicine in Canada, and his colleagues examined the aspirin-taking habits of 807 patients age 50 and over.

About four out of ten of these patients took aspirin (acetylsalicylic acid) regularly. Of those who took aspirin, 87 percent did so for cardiovascular prevention, and of these patients, about 47 percent took it for secondary prevention and 53 percent took it for primary prevention.

Primary prevention means a patient doesn’t have established cardiovascular disease and hasn’t had a heart attack or stroke. Secondary prevention means the patient has had an episode such as a heart attack or stroke.

About 62 percent of patients who had cardiovascular disease were taking aspirin regularly. According to the authors, this is a group that really benefits from a daily aspirin.

On the other hand, more individuals who were at low cardiovascular risk were taking aspirin and they were less likely to have benefit from it.

Previous research on using aspirin for primary prevention has said that it doesn't change long-term mortality, according to Dr. Kolber.

Kolber told dailyRx News, “Basically, if we took a whole bunch of the aspirin from the people who really don’t need it and encouraged the ones that really should be on it to take it, I think we’d have better outcomes.”

In addition, about one-quarter take aspirin for primary care without the advice of a family physician, and patients who took aspirin believe benefits outweigh the risks.

“We recommend that you should visit your healthcare provider and have a discussion about future cardiovascular risk,” Dr. Kolber told dailyRx News.

“Then have a discussion about whether aspirin is appropriate for you or not. There are probably way too many people taking aspirin who are low risk and have potential harm, and they should really discuss taking it with their healthcare professional.”

Dr. Kolber said that aspirin can increase a person’s risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, and it is often implicated with admission to the hospital for medication adverse events.

This study was announced in March in a press release from the University of Alberta and published in a recent issue of Canadian Family Physician.

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Review Date: 
April 8, 2013
Last Updated:
April 8, 2013