If you’re popping aspirin on a daily basis to lower your chances of having a heart attack or stroke, it might turn out that an aspirin a day may not keep the doctor away.
In fact, it could make things worse for your health.
Doctors will often tell patients to take a daily aspirin since doing so can prevent the formation of blood clots, which cause heart attacks and strokes.
A new study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that one in 10 people were either prescribed an aspirin regimen or daily they were taking one preventively when it wasn’t necessary.
To figure that out, researchers looked through the health records of almost 69,000 people receiving care at 119 cardiology practices throughout the United States.
The scientists determined the people who didn’t need to take the aspirin had too low of a risk to need it to prevent a heart attack or a stroke.
“Some 7,972 had a less than 6% chance of having a heart attack or stroke within the next 10 years,” said Dr. Salim Virani, an author of the study and a cardiologist and assisting professor of medicine at Baylor College.
You might think that it’s not that big of a deal, but taking aspirin when you don’t need to can lead to some serious health problems.
“Someone taking aspirin with a low risk for heart attack or stroke can cause more harm than good,” Virani said.
“It can cause gastrointestinal bleeding, ulcers and the most dreaded place where (there is bleeding) inside the brain,” he added. “The brain area can’t accommodate a lot of blood and you can die.”
An unneeded aspirin regimen can also make your blood too thin, causing problems if you need surgery.
If you’ve had a stroke or heart attack in the past, or fall into that bracket where an aspirin regimen is needed, you do still need to be careful. You need to make sure you’re taking the right dose.
The recommended dose for someone who needs to be on an aspirin regimen is 81 milligrams. That’s the equivalent of the dose of a baby aspirin in the United States. Taking anything more than that increases your risk for side effects.
“People weigh the concern of the risks of heart disease over the risk of the side effects. We underestimate the side effects,” said Dr. Sharon Bergquist, assistant professor of medicine at the Emory School of Medicine.
“Those who have that less than 6% risk should be maximizing lifestyle reduction efforts rather than a medication such as aspirin.”
Lifestyle reduction efforts include getting enough exercise, eating properly, getting enough sleep and reducing levels of stress.
The take-away from this study? Consult your doctor before beginning any sort of medicinal regimen, and if you don’t need to be on an aspirin regimen, stop popping those pills and start stepping out for exercise.