Low-dose aspirin may do more harm than good in people without a history of a heart attack or stroke, according to a new analysis of nine clinical trials, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It found that low-dose aspirin reduced nonfatal heart attacks by 20 percent, but that was outweighed by a 30 percent increase in serious gastrointestinal bleeding.
For every 150 or so people who took aspirin for six years, the drug prevented one nonfatal heart attack, but caused two cases of serious bleeding. Moreover, aspirin did not reduce deaths from heart attacks and strokes.
People who have already had a heart attack or stroke clearly benefit from low-dose aspirin. That’s the only explicit heart health claim the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) allows for aspirin. But people without a history of cardiovascular disease should not routinely take aspirin— or should at least talk to their doctors about their risk factors before taking the drug, the researchers suggested. Aspirin may also reduce the risk of certain cancers (notably colorectal), so if you’re at high risk, this should enter into the equation.