Harvard Heart Letter

Do healthy people need an aspirin a day?

The healthier your heart and arteries, the less you need aspirin.

If you are having a heart attack, chewing a full-strength aspirin tablet can be a lifesaving move. If you have heart disease, have had a heart attack or stroke, or are at very high risk for having one, taking a low-dose aspirin every day is part of a proven strategy for preventing one of these life-changers. But what if you are relatively healthy? Will taking aspirin help you keep heart attack, stroke, and other forms of cardiovascular disease at bay?

If taking aspirin was 100% beneficial, it would make sense for everyone with heart disease, or just worried about it, to take this inexpensive drug. Aspirin makes blood platelets less "sticky." This limits the formation of clots in the bloodstream, which can trigger heart attacks and strokes. But aspirin has unwanted side effects, too. Reducing blood's clotting potential can lead to hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding inside the brain). In the stomach, aspirin can cause everything from a feeling of mild heartburn to bleeding ulcers. Severe gastrointestinal bleeding can be deadly.

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