May 13, 2014 11:14 am

Reality check: Should you stop taking an Aspirin a day?

WATCH ABOVE: Dr. Ali Zenter explains how the common practice of taking an aspirin every day to prevent heart attacks has been called into question.

TORONTO — Are you taking an Aspirin a day to ward off a heart attack? You may be doing more harm than good to your health.

Last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration issued a consumer update telling Americans that people without a history of heart problems shouldn’t be taking a daily dose of the drug.

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Even if you have a family history of heart disease, you won’t benefit from your daily aspirin habit, the FDA warned.

Read the consumer update here.

Its update may have confused some consumers. About a decade ago, it was common practice for doctors and pharmacists to dole out Aspirin to keep away heart disease in their patients, according to Phil Emberley, director of pharmacy innovation at the Canadian Pharmacists Association.

READ MORE: Why an Aspirin a day might not be best for everyone

“A lot of people feel that if Aspirin were a new drug, it may not even be over the counter at this point. It would be a prescription drug because it does have potential side effects and not everyone should take it,” Emberley said.

So who should be taking aspirin regularly? Since the 1990s, clinical data has shown that patients who had a heart attack, stroke or had disease in their blood vessels benefitted from a daily low dose of aspirin as a secondary prevention measure.

“There is no debate that if you are having a heart attack or a stroke an Aspirin may save your life,” Dr. Ali Zentner, a Vancouver-based doctor, said.

“There is no debate that if you’ve had heart disease — a heart attack, angina, angioplasty or bypass surgery — or if you’ve had a stroke or a warning stroke, an Aspirin may save your life,” Zentner wrote in a blog post.

As for the rest of us?

“The takeaway message is the effects are modest in those people who don’t have heart disease,” Emberley said.

“Nobody should take a drug daily without putting some conscious thought into it. There has to be some rationale to it,” he said.

READ MORE: Hanging onto unused prescription drugs? Why docs say throw them out

The trouble is Aspirin — or acetylsalicylic acid (ASA) — could come with side effects, namely gastrointestinal bleeding through the stomach lining or through blood vessels in the brain for example. Prevention data shows that for every 1,000 people taking Aspirin, one will have a gastrointestinal bleed, according to Zentner.

Health Canada says that its advice is similar to that of the FDA.

“The labelling for aspirin recommends that consumers consult with their doctor for daily preventive therapy,” the federal agency told Global News.

Bayer Canada, the makers of Aspirin, told Global News that the drug can help reduce risk of heart attacks but that consumers should look for professional opinion.

“In Canada, the consumer indication is ‘doctor supervised daily preventative therapy,’” the company said in a statement.

“Therefore, if consumers have any further questions about their ASPIRIN therapy, they should consult their doctor.”

carmen.chai@globalnews.ca

© Shaw Media, 2014

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