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Does aspirin have heart health benefits?

Published On: Dec 29 2011 09:46:58 AM CST
Updated On: Feb 10 2014 09:30:38 AM CST
white pills, Aspirin, Tylenol

iStock / gblu

An apple a day may keep the doctor away, but it's up for debate as to what a daily dose of aspirin can actually do for your heart health.

There are varying opinions from the medical community about the benefits and risks from taking the simple, over-the-counter regimen. One of the leading medical institutions in the U.S. said aspirin is definitely beneficial, while a major U.K. study released just over a year ago says an aspirin a day may do more harm than good in some cases, and no good at all in others.

According a staff-written feature on MayoClinic.com, a tablet of aspirin should only be considered for people who've had a heart attack or a stroke, or are in a high-risk group that could lead to the potentially deadly ailments. People at risk include those who smoke tobacco; have high blood pressure; or have a total cholesterol level of more than 240 mg/dL, a level of low-density lipoprotein (also known as LDL or "bad") cholesterol level of 130 mg/dL or higher or have diabetes.

Other people in the at-risk group include those with high levels of stress or who have a family history of stroke or heart attack. Men who have more than two alcoholic drinks or women who have more than one drink a day are also considered at risk, the Mayo Clinic said.

Traditionally, of course, aspirin is used to alleviate headaches and body aches. But in relation to people who are at risk for heart attack or stroke, the Mayo Clinic said, aspirin -- which interferes with your blood's clotting action -- can prevent a blood clot from blocking the blood flow to a person's heart or brain and possibly prevent them from suffering a heart attack or stroke.

Some studies claim that aspirin does no good at all when it comes to certain at-risk groups. Researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland posted their findings in the October 2008 British Medical Journal, following an eight-year study where it placed 1,276 participants on aspirin, an antioxidant or a placebo. The researchers targeted one of the highest at-risk groups -- diabetics, though the participants showed no initial symptoms of heart disease -- and found that the aspirin or antioxidant did no better than a placebo in reducing the risk of heart disease.

However, the researchers stopped short of panning the aspirin regimen for everyone. They said that in people who had previously suffered a heart attack or stroke, the use of aspirin reduced the further chances of either happening again by 25 percent.

In general, the study said, aspirin may potentially cause other conditions within the body. The study noted that aspirin could causes ulcers and bleeding in the stomach, and that one of the most common causes for hospitalization in Scotland was gastrointestinal bleeding.

Concurring with both the Mayo and Scotland researchers, the American Heart Association recommended aspirin for patients who have previously suffered a heart attack or stroke, as well as those with unstable angina and others who have suffered transient ischemic attacks -- TIAs or "little strokes." The AHA said its recommendation for aspirin use is based on "sound evidence from clinical trials" for secondary prevention for previous sufferers and for primary prevention of events "from occurring in people at high risk."

If you feel that taking aspirin daily -- in many cases, a tablet of baby aspirin is considered a strong enough dose -- is the right course of action if you are at risk for a heart attack or stroke, the Mayo Clinic advises that you only start the regimen with their approval. The clinic said that the regimen is not recommended to those with a bleeding or clotting disorder, asthma, stomach ulcers or heart failure.