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HealthWatch: Aspirin May Be A Wonder Drug, But New Research Suggests It's Not For Everyone

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- We've always heard that aspirin was important to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But as CBS2's Dr. Max Gomez reported Monday, new studies say that may not be the best prescription for everybody.

Aspirin is still an important life-saving drug for heart disease and stroke. But whether it's right for you depends on your age and, especially, your history of heart disease or stroke.

These new studies apply to elderly people who do not have heart disease or have not had a stroke.

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It's a little white pill that's been called a miracle drug, a pain reliever, anti-inflammatory and blood thinner, which is why it's an important weapon in the battle against heart disease and stroke.

"What we know for sure is that everyone who has had a heart attack or stroke benefits from aspirin," said Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum of Mount Sinai Hospital.

(Credit: CBS 2)

Steinbaum, Heart Association spokesperson and director of women's cardiovascular prevention at Mount Sinai, explained that's what's called secondary prevention because you've already had a cardiovascular problem.

But now three studies out of Monash University in Australia suggest that for people at least 70 years old and who have not had any signs of heart disease or stroke, what doctors call primary prevention, an aspirin a day could be doing more harm than good.

"Unless there's a good reason, we don't want our older patients to be on aspirin," Dr. Joel Simon said.

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Bruce Halloway was one of 19,000 elderly who took part in the five-year study.

"It was not known if these would be effective in all people," Halloway said.

The study's results found low-dose aspirin taken daily doesn't reduce the risk of a first heart attack or stroke, or prolong life in people over age 70 free of disability.

"Taking aspirin might be riskier than beneficial. The risk might be bleeding, significant bleeding of the stomach, the GI tract or in the brain," Steinbaum said.

The risk of heart disease and stroke goes up with age, so some experts think that aspirin isn't enough to overcome that risk in otherwise healthy elderly. It also points out that aspirin is a serious drug.

"Many of us have thought that aspirin is no big deal. You can get it over the counter, but that's just not true. It is a medication, so don't just take it for no reason. Talk to your doctor first," Steinbaum said.

Which means you should not start, or stop, taking aspirin without consulting your doctor to take your individual risk factors into account. The bottom line is, these studies apply to elderly over 70 who have not had any heart attack or stroke issues. If you have, aspirin is still a life-saver.

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