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For most people, taking aspirin to prevent heart attacks is not a good idea

Photo by Ulrich Baumgarten via Getty Images

Lately, aspirin has enjoyed a renaissance, with millions of older Americans taking small doses of the drug daily to lower this risk of heart attacks and strokes.

But in a new statement, the FDA is warning that anyone who doesn't already have cardiovascular disease really shouldn't be taking aspirin daily.

The reason: daily doses of aspirin can increase the chance of bleeding in the stomach or brain. If you haven't already been diagnosed with cardiovascular disease, the potential benefits of aspirin are too small to outweigh this danger.

This isn't exactly new science. Clinical trials have previously shown that daily small doses of aspirin (often 81 milligram baby aspirin pills) only lower the chance of heart attack or stroke in people who've already experienced one. Because the drug — which interferes with the blood's clotting ability — increases the chance of internal bleeding, this led to recommendations that people only take daily aspirin when prescribed by a doctor, generally in response to a previous heart attack or stroke, chest pain, or coronary surgery.

But that hasn't stopped pharmaceutical companies from trying to cash in on the perception that daily aspirin is a good idea for everyone. The new FDA statement comes in response to the agency's rejection of a request by the Bayer company to label their aspirin as beneficial for daily use in people with no history of cardiovascular disease. Bayer made $1.27 billion off aspirin sales last year.

Bottom line: they're not going to be allowed to label the pills that way, for good reason. Unless prescribed by your doctor, don't take it upon yourself to start taking aspirin every day.