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Is taking a daily low-dose aspirin safe for you? from the Harvard Men's Health Watch

Millions of Americans take a low-dose aspirin every day to keep the cardiologist away. But many don't realize that aspirin, probably the most familiar medication of all, comes with a small but real risk of serious bleeding. Everyone taking aspirin should understand why they are taking it and what risks come with it, reports the October 2012 Harvard Men's Health Watch.

"It's important to have a discussion with your doctor, weigh the risks and benefits, and factor in the uncertainty to decide if you should be on aspirin," says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and chief of cardiology at the VA Boston Healthcare System.

Clot buster

Aspirin suppresses the formation of blood clots, the villains behind heart attacks and most strokes. But in doing so, aspirin boosts the risk for bleeding in the stomach and brain. The critical question is whether the risk of cardiovascular disease outweighs the risk of bleeding. Right now, the answer is not simple.

For people who have already had a heart attack, the benefits of preventive aspirin comfortably outweigh the risk of major bleeding. For every six in whom aspirin prevents a heart attack or other cardiovascular problem, one person on aspirin experiences a bleeding episode.

"If somebody already has evidence of cardiovascular disease, there's no question he or she should be on an aspirin unless there are some major bleeding issues or an allergy that prevents taking aspirin," Dr. Bhatt says.

Healing the well?

Many people taking aspirin have not yet had heart problems, although they may have some risk factors, like high cholesterol or being overweight. When they take aspirin to prevent heart disease from happening, more of them pay a price. On average, aspirin helps only about two people for every one harmed. The balance is unfavorable enough that European cardiologists don't recommend preventive aspirin for otherwise healthy people.

Everyone is different. That's why it's important to discuss the pros and cons of aspirin with a doctor before taking a low-dose tablet a day.

Read the full-length article: "Is low-dose aspirin safe for you?"

Also in this issue of the Harvard Men's Health Watch

  • Should you skip your PSA test?
  • On call: Calcium supplement basics
  • On call: Remedies for dry skin
  • Is low-dose aspirin safe for you?
  • Testing your testosterone: It's tricky
  • Stomach-soothing steps for heartburn
  • In the journals: Large waistline linked to urinary and erectile difficulties
  • In the journals: "Keyhole" vein removal for bypass is safe
  • In the journals: Popular cardiac drug may prevent pneumonia
  • In the journals: Not requiring a co-pay boosts colorectal screening

More Harvard Health News »

About Harvard Health Publications

Harvard Health Publications publishes four monthly newsletters--Harvard Health Letter, Harvard Women's Health Watch, Harvard Men's Health Watch, and Harvard Heart Letter--as well as more than 50 special health reports and books drawing on the expertise of the 8,000 faculty physicians at Harvard Medical School and its world-famous affiliated hospitals.