Self-prescribed Aspirin Comes with Risks

Aspirin is the heart's “wonder drug” you shouldn’t self prescribe

Should You Take Aspirin If You Are on Blood Thinners

By some estimates, more than 50 million people in the U.S. take a daily dose of aspirin. Aspirin is a blood thinner that has long been known to help patients with heart disease and those who have suffered a heart attack.

Many heart patients do aspirin therapy as prescribed by their doctors. But as more people self prescribe aspirin in an effort to be heart healthy, Steven Nissen, MD, says there are serious health risks when you take aspirin without the advice of a doctor. Dr. Nissen is Chairman of the Department of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic.

“Only those individuals who are at high risk for a heart attack benefit from taking aspirin as a preventive measure,” says Dr. Nissen. “Before taking a daily dose, you need to have a dialog with your physician about the benefits and risks of aspirin therapy.”

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Risks vs. benefits

Dr. Nissen cautions that there are many risks associated with long-term use of aspirin. The biggest risk is gastrointestinal bleeding or hemorrhagic stroke, both of which can be life threatening.

Dr. Nissen says the benefits of daily aspirin outweigh the risks for patients who have had a heart attack, bypass surgery or a history of coronary artery disease. For others, there has to be a cluster of risk factors for heart disease for a doctor to prescribe aspirin. These risk factors include having diabetes, being a smoker, having high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

“Once you have a cluster of risk factors, you start to look like someone who has already had a heart attack,” he explains. “But it is important for a doctor to review your case and determine that aspirin is appropriate for you.”

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Talk to your doctor

Results of a study in 2012 showing that aspirin can prevent some cancers also has led to more people taking a daily dose without the recommendation of a physician. But the bottom line is “Do not take daily aspirin therapy on your own. You can’t ignore the serious health risks,” Dr. Nissen says.

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  • Junie

    OK, what happens if the patient loses 35% of her body weight after aspirin was prescribed and the patient no longer has any risk factors for heart disease? Should the patient discontinue aspirin on her own?

    • The_Beating_Edge_Team

      Junie – the patient should talk with the doctor about why they are on aspirin and see if they should continue. It would depend on why the patient was on aspirin and if they still need it. betsyRN

  • Glen

    You should have been more detailed about the risk of stroke from taking aspirin. Some studies indicate the risk of stroke increases by hundreds of percent for those taking aspirin. Even if one were to benefit from a lower risk of heart attack via aspirin, significantly increasing the stroke potential is a pretty serious trade-off.

  • Mark Prus

    If you are concerned about long term use of aspirin, you should at least consider carrying it with you for emergency use. In a heart attack, seconds count. That’s why at the first onset of heart attack symptoms, the American Heart Association recommends calling 911 and chewing aspirin. When that aspirin is readily available via the At Heart® emergency aspirin dispenser, a life could be saved. Most of the heart attacks occur when someone is away from home, and most heart attack deaths occur before the patient gets to the hospital. Keeping an At Heart®
    emergency aspirin dispenser on your key ring can protect you and your loved
    ones. At Heart is available only online at, or on