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Why An Aspirin A Day Can Be Good And Bad For Your Health


It’s been recommended for some time that a low-dose aspirin a day helps to avoid heart attack and stroke. But a study out last month in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology suggests some people take the drug "inappropriately."

For our consumer health series Vital Signs, Dr. James DeLemos, Cardiology Service Chief with Parkland Hospital, talked about the pros and cons of daily aspirin therapy.

From Dr. DeLemos’s interview…

How aspirin fights/prevents heart attack: “When a heart attack happens, procoagulant substances in the blood called platelets become very sticky and contribute to the damage that happens when a heart attack occurs. Aspirin can block those platelets and either treat or prevent heart attack."

Pros and cons of daily aspirin therapy: "If you’ve had a heart attack or a stent put in or a bypass surgery or even an ischemic stroke, there’s no doubt that the risk to benefit clearly favors aspirin. The issue is people who have not had a heart attack or a stroke. The evidence is conflicting and people have rolled back the broad recommendations, particularly for women and people who are hot at high risk for heart attack. Aspirin can erode the lining of the stomach and small intestine, and promote intestinal bleeding and ulcers and, very rarely, can promote bleeding in the brain. When you’re talking about healthy people taking aspirin, nothing happens often and so that’s the balance, because the risk is very low of having a heart attack. Then you have to balance that against the  complication of the medication.”

Other complications that might warrant daily aspirin therapy: “There are and it’s really the combination of risk factors: Older age, male sex, diabetes and high cholesterol.”

Should you take an aspirin a day with consulting a doctor: “I do believe it’s an individual decision and the educated physician will have a dialog with about that decision. But I think it’s complicated enough that running out and taking it without thinking about pluses and minuses is a little bit risky.”

For more information:

Mayo Clinic: Benefits and Risks of Daily Aspirin Therapy

FDA: Using Aspirin to Lower Risk of Heart Attack or Stroke 

Heart Attack Risk Assessment 

Study In Journal of American College of Cardiology

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.