Can Aspirin Prevent a Heart Attack?

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Aspirin is an over-the-counter drug used to treat pain, headaches, and fever. You may have heard that aspirin can also be used to decrease the risk of heart attacks.

While it’s true that a low, daily dose of aspirin can help prevent a heart attack, that doesn’t mean everyone should take it. For many people, the risks of taking aspirin every day outweigh the benefits.

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Read on to learn about the link between aspirin and cardiovascular health, as well as who may be a good candidate for daily aspirin use.

What’s the link between aspirin and heart attack prevention?

Aspirin is a blood thinner. It may help prevent heart attacks by making it harder for platelets in the blood to clot.

Blood clots are part of a healthy circulatory system. When you’re wounded, clotting prevents excess blood loss.

Clots become dangerous when they move around the body or stop the flow of blood to important organs. A heart attack occurs when platelets form a clot that blocks the flow of blood to the heart.

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This is more likely to occur among people who have certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol. These conditions weaken and narrow the arteries, making it harder for blood to circulate freely.

If you have risk factors for blood clots, your doctor might prescribe a blood thinner to reduce your risk for a heart attack.

Can taking an aspirin help during a heart attack?

Taking aspirin during a heart attack may help lessen the damage, but you should first call for emergency medical help before doing so. Since it’s an effective blood thinner, a small dose may be enough to stop or slow the formation of a blood clot.

With that said, aspirin isn’t right for everyone. You shouldn’t take it if you have an allergy to aspirin.

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The recommended dose of aspirin during a heart attack is 160 to 325 milligrams (mg).

If you already take daily low-dose aspirin, take two tablets (162 mg). For the fastest results, you should crush or chew the tablet before swallowing it.

If you only have regular aspirin on hand, you should still chew or crush the tablets to speed up absorption.

Uncoated tablets will be absorbed more quickly than coated tablets.

Can taking an aspirin every day help lower your risk for a heart attack?

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Daily aspirin may lower the risk of a heart attack, but the risks of taking aspirin every day outweigh the benefits for most people.

A 2019 meta-analysis of thirteen randomized controlled trials and a total of 164,225 participants found that among people who don’t have cardiovascular disease, taking daily aspirin doesn’t improve mortality outcomes.

According to 2019 recommendations from the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA), only people with certain cardiovascular risk factors should take aspirin on a daily basis to prevent a heart attack.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) came to a similar conclusion. A 2016 recommendation indicated that aspirin is only beneficial for individuals between 50 to 69 years who are at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease.

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The recommended daily dose of aspirin to prevent a heart attack is 75 to 325 mg. Daily low-dose aspirin tablets typically contain 81 mg.

You shouldn’t take daily aspirin without talking to your doctor first. Your doctor can help you understand the risks and benefits, along with how much to take.

Are there other benefits to taking daily aspirin?

Some studies suggest that daily aspirin therapy may prevent certain cancers.

In particular, the 2016 USPSTF recommendations reported that taking aspirin on a daily basis likely reduces risk for colorectal cancer, but only after 5 to 10 years of use.

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Some research suggests that aspirin may be helpful in preventing other cancers, but more studies need to be done to understand whether the benefits of taking aspirin outweigh the risks.

What are the risks of taking aspirin every day?

Like all drugs, aspirin can cause side effects. Since it’s a blood thinner, the most common side effect of regular use is excessive bleeding, particularly in the stomach and the brain. Kidney failure is another possible side effect.

You might have an increased chance of experiencing side effects if you:

  • are allergic to aspirin
  • have a bleeding or clotting disorder
  • have stomach ulcers that bleed
  • are at risk of hemorrhagic stroke
  • drink alcohol on a regular basis
  • need to undergo routine dental or medical procedures
  • are over the age of 70

If you have any of the above risk factors, it’s critical to talk with your doctor before taking aspirin.

Is daily aspirin right for you?

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Doctors typically prescribe daily aspirin therapy for people who have certain cardiovascular risk factors.

You might benefit from taking aspirin every day if you answer “yes” to one or more of the following questions:

  • Have you previously had a heart attack?
  • Have you previously had a clot-related stroke?
  • Have you had a stent inserted in a coronary artery?
  • Do you have chest pain caused by angina?
  • Have you had coronary bypass surgery?
  • Are you a man over 50 or a woman over 60 with diabetes and at least one other heart disease risk factor?
  • Do you have a family history of heart attacks?

If you think you’re at risk, make an appointment to discuss daily aspirin with a doctor.

The bottom line

Aspirin prevents blood clots from forming. It may be helpful in the event of a heart attack, and it also prevents heart attacks.

However, daily aspirin therapy is generally no longer recommended. For people who aren’t at risk for heart attack, the risks of taking aspirin are greater than the benefits.

You shouldn’t take daily aspirin without first consulting your doctor. They can help you understand whether daily aspirin is right for you.

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