Everyone’s doin’ it. TV ads say you should be doin’ it. Your doctor says you should be doin’ it. But should you really take aspirin for your heart?
For a very long time, this answer was a strong, positive “YES.” After all-aspirin thins the blood so it would make sense for aspirin to lower your risk of a heart attack, right?
Yes, and hormone replacement therapy for women was a great idea as well. At least until someone decided to really look at this multi-billion dollar drug industry and found that HRT actually caused everything you were told it would help. Oops.
So for decades, doctors and advertising messages bombarded you with the idea that aspirin will protect your heart. The problem is that this was largely a theory that was promoted to you as fact. But, over a decade ago (2001 to be exact), studies were published finding no benefit to taking aspirin in low-risk individuals. That means that, for the average person, he or she was taking a drug well-known to lead to bleeding ulcers, kidney damage, strokes, macular degeneration and even pancreatic cancer, all with the idea that it was good for his or her heart.
It took another decade for further studies to make it to the limelight, but in 2010 another study was published and again found no benefit to using aspirin to protect the heart. Two large meta-analysis of multiple studies published in 2011 also found no benefit to using aspirin to prevent a first heart attack (primary prevention).
At this point, I was SURE that this was the death of aspirin to prevent a first heart attack (the data is a little stronger if you’ve already had a heart attack), but I still have patients taking aspirin for their heart. And they seemed shocked to hear that it really has no benefits (ok…if you treat 1000 patients with aspirin for 5 years, 2.9 less people with have a heart attack, although 2.8 will experience a major bleed due to the aspirin. Net gain of 1 person out of 10,000 patients. So I guess I can’t say that there is NO benefit to aspirin..).
Just in case you still aren’t convinced, this particular study should put your confusion to rest. In it, researchers looked at 22,576 patients who were at least 50 years of age with stable heart disease that required high blood pressure medications. These patients were grouped into an “ischemic” group if they had a history of unstable angina, myocardial infarction, transient ischemic attack, or stroke while all others were grouped as “non-ischemic.” Here’s what they found:
- 56.7% of all participants used aspirin, which increased to 69.3% by the end of the study.
- In the “non-ischemic” group aspirin actually INCREASED the risk of a heart attack, stroke or dying by 11%.
- However, in the “ischemic” group aspirin did lower the risk of a heart attack, stroke or death by 13%.
For those of us who have NOT had a heart attack, this is NOT good news. Given the previous studies on aspirin over the past 14 years or so, the results of this study are no surprised at all.
What I will suggest is what I have suggested to all my patients–relying on a single drug (with side effects) to try to change your risk of heart attack instead of making wise lifestyle choices is just plain stupid. And yet sadly, this is what society promotes.
If you’d like to get a good start on protecting your heart without aspirin, feel free to check out my heart disease eBook on Amazon by clicking here.