Should You Stop Taking Aspirin to Prevent Heart Attack?

May 7, 2014

Going against years of well accepted advice, the FDA has warned the public that most people shouldn’t take aspirin to prevent heart attacks. The announcement was prompted by the FDA’s decision last week to block pharmaceutical company Bayer AG from changing the drug’s labeling. The proposed changes would have allowed the company to market aspirin as a heart attack prevention drug for people who don’t have heart problems.

Since the 1990s, clinical data have shown that in people who have experienced a heart attack, stroke or who have a disease of the blood vessels in the heart, a daily low dose of aspirin can help prevent a reoccurrence. This use is known as “secondary prevention.”

However, after carefully examining scientific data, the FDA has concluded that the data do not support the use of aspirin as a preventive medication by people who have not had a heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular problems, a use that is called “primary prevention.” In such people, the benefit has not been established but the risks—such as bleeding into the brain or stomach—are still present.

If you have not experienced a heart attack/stroke and are on aspirin as a “primary prevention,” the FDA encourages patients to talk to their healthcare provider about the best treatment for their individual situation.

The FDA isn’t done with studying this issue. They are currently awaiting results of additional clinical trials that are underway and have estimated to have reportable results in the next few years. These clinical trials may provide new evidence that could be the basis for changing the current uses for aspirin.

The bottom line is that in people who have had a heart attack, stroke or cardiovascular problems, daily aspirin therapy is worth considering. And if you’re thinking of using aspirin therapy, you should first talk to your health care professional to get an opinion based upon your personal health situation.