- Aspirin can help prevent a heart attack from getting worse if you take it after the onset of symptoms.
- Taking a daily baby aspirin may also reduce the chance of a heart attack if you’re at high risk for one, or if you’ve already had one.
- Aspirin is a blood thinner and also comes with risks, so talk with your doctor or a 911 operator before you take it to help with a heart attack.
- This article was reviewed by Steven Reisman, MD, a cardiologist and the director of the New York Cardiac Diagnostic Centre.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Aspirin thins the blood by reducing its number of clotting agents, known as platelets. Though it won’t fully stop a heart attack, it can prevent one from getting worse for many patients.
If you’ve already had a heart attack or might be at high risk of one, your doctor may also recommend taking aspirin daily. Here’s what you need to know about aspirin and whether it’s right for you.
Aspirin prevents a heart attack from getting worse
A heart attack results from a blockage – or clot – in the arteries leading to the heart. When this happens, the surrounding heart tissue can’t get oxygen, and that tissue can die and weaken the heart. That’s why it’s essential for medical professionals to quickly remove that clot.
You should immediately call 911 if you think you may be experiencing a heart attack. But once you’re on the line with a 911 operator, they might recommend taking an aspirin because it thins the blood and thus makes it harder for further clots to form.
Taking aspirin in the middle of a heart attack is “critical for preventing the heart attack from getting worse,” says Geoffrey Barnes, MD, a cardiologist at University of Michigan Medicine.
A 911 operator might recommend you take one adult-strength aspirin or two to four low-dose aspirin in the middle of a heart attack, according to the American College of Cardiology. One study found that taking aspirin during a heart attack reduced mortality by 23%.
“I would say that aspirin has been at the centre of our treatment for heart attacks for decades,” Barnes says. “It is perhaps the most important or one of the most important things we do, and we have been recommending it to people for a very long time.”
However, not everyone should take aspirin during a heart attack. Those with an aspirin allergy should, of course, stay away, as the stress from the allergic reaction could make you feel worse. The FDA recommends avoiding aspirin if you’re already on a blood thinner, such as warfarin, dabigatran (Pradaxa), rivaroxaban (Xarelto) and apixaban (Eliquis).
Daily aspirin can reduce the risk of heart attack for some patients
Barnes says that doctors will typically recommend taking a daily baby aspirin if you had a heart attack in the past or if you have blockages in major arteries, such as the arteries leading to the brain or legs.
Daily aspirin only benefits your cardiovascular health if you’re at risk for a heart attack. Taking daily aspirin can also increase the risk of bleeding and bruising, and may do more harm than good for healthier people.
For example, research has found that for those who had plaque build up in the heart, aspirin was two to four times more likely to prevent a heart attack than cause major bleeding events. But for those without plaque build-up, aspirin was two to four times more likely to lead to a major bleeding event than to prevent a heart attack.
Barnes says that daily aspirin is not necessary for patients with an overall low risk for a heart attack – such as people who are under 70, have never smoked, and don’t have high blood pressure or high cholesterol.
Still, aspirin can have positive effects for those with cardiovascular disease, or with these risk factors. A 2011 study found that if 90% of those who needed to take daily aspirin actually took it, 45,000 lives would be saved per year. Therefore, it’s important to check in with your doctor to see if a daily aspirin regimen will benefit you.
Related stories about heart health:
- How to prevent a heart attack the first time and from happening again
- What is a silent heart attack? How to recognise the warning signs
- What are the signs of a heart attack? How to know if you’re at risk
- How hypertension, heart disease, and stroke are related
- How to lower blood pressure with a heart-healthy diet and exercise
- What to do if you’re having a heart attack after calling 911
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