Is an aspirin-a-day the way?

As you’ve probably learnt by now, when it comes to health it’s never that simple. For most people, an aspirin-a-day is definitely not the way. Let’s see why.

Is aspirin not just for headaches?

On top of being a painkiller, aspirin also thins your blood. So the reasoning behind taking daily, low-dose aspirin is that it can prevent blood clots. As a result it can protect you from having a heart attack or stroke.

This isn’t just a theory, it’s backed by a mountain of evidence. That’s why millions of people worldwide take aspirin every day — in the hopes that it will prevent heart disease.

Great, what’s the catch?

A pill that can stop heart disease in its tracks. It sounds too good to be true, right? Right. While aspirin seems like a friendly over-the-counter drug, it can sometimes do more harm than good.

What the evidence says

A recent study looked at over 19,000 older adults with no history of heart disease. These adults were randomly split into two groups — one group took aspirin every day and the other group took a placebo. They were tracked over a four year period. This was a large, well-designed study so you can be pretty confident in the results.

The results showed that there was no significant difference in the rates of heart disease between the two groups. Highlighting that unless you have a history of heart disease, there’s no significant benefit in taking aspirin every day.

On top of this, because aspirin can damage the lining of your stomach, an increased risk of major gastrointestinal bleeding was seen. Other studies have also shown this, with adults over 75 years especially at-risk.

I take daily aspirin — should I be worried?

If you’re at risk of heart disease and your doctor has advised you to take aspirin, you should follow their advice. If you’re thinking of stopping it, definitely talk to your doctor first.

There’s some evidence to show that taking proton-pump inhibitors (PPIs), heartburn medication, might be beneficial if you routinely take aspirin. This is because it can reduce your risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. Again, speak with your doctor first about this because PPIs also have side-effects.

The bottom line

Unless you’re at-risk of heart disease and your doctor has recommended you take it, don’t do it. Considering how complex heart disease is, it’s not exactly shocking that it’s not as easy as popping a pill (unfortunately!).