What are the Benefits of Taking Daily Aspirin?

Toni Henthorn

Evidence for the health benefits of aspirin has mounted during the last few years. Medical researchers have touted daily aspirin, or acetylsalicylic acid, as an inexpensive and highly effective way to lower rates of stroke, heart attack, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and even Alzheimer’s disease. Many of the positive effects of aspirin derive from its anti-inflammatory and blood-thinning properties. Although daily aspirin use seems to provide an array of health benefits, it also may be associated with serious side effects, such as gastrointestinal bleeding. For this reason, patients should not take daily aspirin unless the benefits strongly outweigh the potential risks.

Taking daily aspirin may reduce risk of heart attack.
Taking daily aspirin may reduce risk of heart attack.

Aspirin reduces inflammation, prevents blood clotting, reduces fever, and alleviates pain. Through its acetyl group, aspirin binds to the enzyme, cyclooxygenase, thereby blocking the production of prostaglandins and thromboxanes. Prostaglandins narrow blood vessels, promote blood clots, increase nerve sensitivity to pain, and cause fever and inflammation in the body. Thromboxanes increase the blood pressure, promote blood clots, and constrict blood vessels. By blocking the production of these hormone-like chemicals, daily aspirin opens up blood vessels, lowers the blood pressure, and prevents blood clotting, reversing the physiologic conditions that contribute to heart attack and stroke.

Taking daily aspirin may be an effective way of lowering an individual's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.
Taking daily aspirin may be an effective way of lowering an individual's risk of developing Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists have studied whether daily aspirin use may inhibit the growth of some forms of cancer. Researchers have found patients with colon cancer who took daily aspirin had higher survival rates than those who didn't. Other researchers have found that death rates of a variety of cancers were significantly reduced in daily aspirin users.

Clinical studies support the use of aspirin for Alzheimer’s disease prevention. In those patients who take an aspirin daily, there was a 40 percent reduction in incidence of Alzheimer’s disease relative to the general population. Scientists do not know why aspirin has this apparent protective effect, but it is possibly related to improvements in brain blood flow due to reduced clot development and more widely dilated blood vessels associated with daily aspirin use. In the elderly, however, the possible reduction in risk for Alzheimer’s disease from regular aspirin use must be weighed against the increased risks of intracranial bleeds and hemorrhagic stroke associated with daily aspirin.

Aspirin can have many benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but it also can cause gastrointestinal bleeding.
Aspirin can have many benefits, such as reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes, but it also can cause gastrointestinal bleeding.

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Discussion Comments

lluviaporos

@croydon - Basically it acts as a blood thinner, which is why people should be cautious about taking it without considering the consequences. My father took some aspirin right after having one of his teeth extracted and we think it was the reason he started bleeding again.

Luckily, after about half an hour it stopped, but we were on the verge of taking him to the hospital because it was kind of a scary situation. I imagine if the wound had been bigger it might have been even worse.

If he had been the kind of person to take more than the recommended dose it might have been worse as well.

croydon

@browncoat - Unfortunately, I think people take aspirin for granted as a very mild medication, no different from taking a cup of coffee or something like that, but it can actually be pretty potent. It's been known to increase stomach bleeding, for example.

And it can be effective in a good way as well. They recommend that if someone has a mild heart attack, for example and can't immediately get to the hospital, that taking a small amount of aspirin can actually help to prevent heart damage.

browncoat

Another important thing to remember is that aspirin can be very dangerous for children or teenagers so don't start treating it as though it is a vitamin.

Giving kids aspirin won't necessarily hurt them unless they have a virus but there's no sure way of telling whether they do or not. And if they do, they might have a bad reaction to it, known as Reye's Syndrome, which can lead to death if not treated immediately.

Children should never be given adult medications unless you've been told by a doctor that it's safe.

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