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Aspirin therapy
Disease fighter—for whom?
Balancing the benefits and risks
Why you should think twice

Avoiding ulcers
Avoiding ulcers

To reduce your chances of developing an ulcer while taking aspirin for an extended period, your doctor may recommend these precautions:

  • Take aspirin with food.
  • Reduce your aspirin dosage.
  • Take coated aspirin.
  • Take medication to reduce stomach acid.
  • Get tested for H. pylori, a stomach microorganism associated with ulcers.

Caution for aspirin users
Caution for aspirin users

If you’re already taking low-dose aspirin therapy but think you shouldn’t be, talk to your doctor before stopping. In one study, stroke survivors who stopped taking daily aspirin tripled their risk of having another stroke during the next month.

An aspirin a day may keep disease away—in fact, studies have shown that low-dose aspirin therapy protects against cardiovascular disease in men and women by preventing blood clots from forming. Other studies have suggested aspirin may even fight breast, colon and rectum cancers.

Until recently, some doctors recommended a daily baby aspirin for adults over age 40. But the latest research urges caution: Aspirin therapy is not right for everyone. Women, particularly, need to think twice.

Disease fighter—for whom?

Since aspirin use prevents blood clots from forming, doctors often recommend that people who’ve had a heart attack or stroke take a daily low-dose aspirin between 75 and 100 milligrams (mg).

In the landmark Women’s Health Study (WHS) scientists monitored nearly 40,000 healthy females ages 45 and older to see whether low-dose aspirin therapy protected them against cancer and cardiovascular disease. WHS participants received either 100 mg of aspirin on alternate days or a placebo (a pill containing no active ingredients). After tracking the women’s health status for 10 years, the researchers found that low-dose aspirin therapy:

  • reduced stroke risk by 17 percent but did not decrease heart attacks or cardiovascular deaths among the women
  • reduced risk of developing cardiovascular disease, ischemic stroke (when blood clots block blood flow to the brain) and heart attack among women 65 and older
  • had no effect in preventing cancer, with the possible exception of lung cancer, although more tests are needed to confirm this benefit

Balancing the benefits and risks

The most recent guidelines from the American Heart Association suggest:

  • If you’re under age 65 and healthy, aspirin therapy has little, if any, benefit and could even be dangerous.
  • If you’re age 65 or older, your doctor may consider low-dose aspirin therapy even if you have no other cardiovascular risk factors.
  • If you’re over 65 and have some risk factors for cardiovascular disease, your doctor may recommend aspirin therapy as long as (1) your blood pressure is under control and (2) reducing your risk of cardiovascular disease outweighs the risk of side effects.
  • If you’re over 65 and have cardiovascular disease, aspirin therapy at a dose of up to 325 mg a day may make sense for you.
  • If you have an increased risk of cancer, talk to your doctor about the preventive measures you should take. (WHS authors noted their findings didn’t rule out the possibility that higher doses of aspirin may protect against cancer.)

Why you should think twice

Low-dose aspirin therapy increases the risk of bleeding ulcers and brain hemorrhage. It can also cause unwanted side effects if you have high blood pressure, bleeding disorders, asthma, stomach disorders and liver or kidney disease.

To see whether aspirin therapy makes sense for you, talk to your doctor. He or she will assess your personal and family medical histories, your use of other medications and any allergies and sensitivities you may have to aspirin.