If you’re taking a baby aspirin daily to prevent a heart attack or stroke, the newest guidelines from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology now advise against the practice.
For years, a daily low dose aspirin was considered part of a heart-healthy plan to prevent a heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events. But this latest research finds it may actually cause more harm than good. The benefit from taking daily low-dose aspirin was offset by the danger of internal bleeding and other side effects in people considered to be at low or moderate risk for heart disease.
Let’s look at who the guidelines recommend should still be taking a baby aspirin daily and some additional heart-healthy options you can try.
Why Would You Take a Baby Aspirin Daily?
The most common use for aspirin is as an anti-inflammatory or pain reliever. But in the 1970s researchers discovered a connection between aspirin and heart health. They found aspirin’s blood-thinning properties could help prevent blood clots from forming. Since most heart attacks and strokes are caused by blood clots blocking the blood vessels that travel to your heart or brain, taking aspirin to help prevent heart attacks seemingly makes perfect sense. The American Heart Association even jumped on board.
But as the years went on, researchers discovered a harmful side effect of taking aspirin, even in low doses, on a daily basis. They determined aspirin can also increase a users’ risk of stomach ulcers and gastrointestinal bleeding. It also doesn’t mix well with alcohol.
Who Should Take Baby Aspirin Daily?
The new recommendation doesn't apply to people who have already had a stroke or heart attack, or those who have undergone bypass surgery or a procedure to insert a stent in their coronary arteries.
If you haven’t had a cardiac event but are still looking for ways to prevent cardiovascular disease, talk to your doctor and go over your options. While your doctor may still recommend taking daily aspirin, it’s important to have a medical opinion behind your decision to ensure the risks and benefits are carefully weighed.
How To Decrease Your Risk Without Aspirin
Aspirin alone isn’t going to make a significant impact on your heart health if you aren’t taking other steps to take care of your body. You can decrease your risk significantly by doing things like:
- Eating a heart-healthy diet
- Getting regular physical activity
- Controlling blood pressure and cholesterol
- Ceasing smoking
People who smoke a pack of cigarettes a day have more than twice the risk of heart attack than non-smokers. Women who smoke and also take birth control pills severely increase their risk of heart attack, stroke, and peripheral vascular disease.
A heart-healthy diet to try is the DASH Diet. It stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. This eating plan is low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and total fat. It emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grain products, fish, poultry and nuts. It recommends avoiding red meat, sweets and added sugars. The Mediterranean Diet is another good one to consider. Both diets will help you control blood pressure and cholesterol.
The newest physical activity guidelines stress that all movement matters. Just walking a little more each day can go a long way.
If you’re healthy and have no family history of heart disease or stroke in your family, stop taking a baby aspirin daily. The risk of bleeding is too great. Instead, focus on heart-healthy eating and activities to decrease your risk.
For more heart disease prevention tips, you can also download our guide “Heart Disease Facts That Could Change Your Life.” In it, you’ll find more ways you can decrease your overall risk for heart disease and find out the telltale symptoms that may reveal something is wrong with your heart.