You see the commercials. The stories on the Internet. An aspirin a day to avoid heart (cardiovascular) and stroke issues. The problem? Twelve percent of people currently taking a daily aspirin should not be taking it in the first place.

The majority of people taking aspirin incorrectly are being overly cautious. The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, followed 68,808 patients being treated by cardiologist. Of those, 7,972 patients were taking aspirin despite having an extremely low risk of having a heart attack in the next 10 years.

If you have risk factors for heart attacks, aspirin is the way to go. The benefits outweigh the risks. For those with a low risk, the risks quickly outweigh the benefits. Aspirin – known as acetylsalicylic acid – prevents heart attacks and strokes by preventing blood clots.

It’s very useful against cardiovascular disease, but patients can quickly run into trouble. Excessive bleeding is a major concern, which can lead to a hemorrhagic stroke (strokes caused by a clot are ischemic).

Doctors only recommend taking aspirin if you are at major risk of a clot-related problem. This includes everyone that has had a heart attack or an ischemic stroke. Patients who have a risk factor of 6-10% of suffering one in the next 10 years are also put on the regimen.

The research team from the Baylor College of Medicine focused on patients trying to prevent their first stroke or heart attack. Using the American College of Cardiology PINNACLE database, they created a profile of the person who should not be taking aspirin.

Who are they? If you guessed on the younger side, you would be correct. The average age was 49.9 years old. As a comparison, a person taking aspirin with the correct risk factor was 65.9.

Women were the most likely to be taking aspirin inappropriately. They made up 80 percent of the pool. Out of the total patient pool, 16.6% of women were taking aspirin without the right risk factors, compared to 5.3% of men.

Drilling it down by cardiology practice showed a wide variance. Some practices had as many as 72% of patients on aspirin without the appropriate risks. Others were at zero. Geographical, it was all over the map without any clear trends.

It should also be noted there’s no way of knowing if the patients were taking aspirin at the behest of the doctor, or on their own. Aspirin can be bought just about anywhere, without a prescription.

What needs to be done? Better patient education. Doctors should cut through the overabundance of Internet information and break down the risks to patients.

As for patients? Educate yourself. Tell your doctor before starting any medication. While aspirin seem innocuous, it can lead to serious complications.


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