Aspirin is one of the world’s most used medicines of the present time and also one of the oldest. It has been available in a manufactured form since the late 19th century and has been used in various forms for centuries before that as derivatives of the bark from willow trees.
Put simply, aspirin thins the blood and this is a major benefit for stroke and heart attack prevention which are both usually caused by blood clots by stopping these from forming. The downside of this thinning action is that it can also make a person more likely to bleed and this risk and the aforementioned benefit have to be balanced against each other. I often get asked by patients where they should be taking it, and if they are already taking it whether they should continue or stop.
There was a new analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in January this year. It is not a new trial but a review of all the relevant research done already. It concludes from reviewing the data of 13 trials covering approximately 165,000 individuals that although aspirin is helpful in reducing the number of strokes and heart attacks in people who have never previously had one the increased bleeding effect outweighs the potential benefits. This only applies to people who have never had a heart attack or stroke, which is therefore termed primary prevention. Secondary prevention with aspirin advice remains the same: if you have previously had a heart attack or a stroke the risk of a further episode is high and so the benefits of taking aspirin to stay in good health outweigh the risks.
In conclusion the case for not using aspirin as a (primary) preventative measure has been strengthened by the new analysis.
Declaration & disclaimer
I have no affiliation with any makers/suppliers of aspirin. The above is not a substitute for medical advice and you should consult your family doctor to discuss your own particular health situation.
Dr Amit Patel