Self-prescribed Aspirin Comes with Risks

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.”

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.”

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.