If You Take These OTC Meds Every Day, You May Be at Risk of Hemorrhaging

Doctors are warning the public against popping these pills on the daily.

If you tend to experience a late afternoon headache or wake up with muscle pain, it's likely you take a low-dose aspirin without giving it much thought. While these over-the-counter (OTC) pills are largely considered to be a sensible preventive method against heart attack or stroke, the current expert thinking is that this common habit may actually bring its own unforeseen risks for healthy individuals. Unfortunately, the same qualities that make aspirin beneficial for those with heart conditions may also be driving up the danger of healthy patients experiencing internal bleeding. For the full story of why your daily aspirin may not be all that it seems, read on. And for more medication tips to keep in mind, check out If You're Swallowing Your Medication With This, Stop Immediately.

Aspirin use is incredibly commonplace among Americans.


At least 29 million Americans take a low-dose aspirin every day, according to research by the Harvard Medical School, as reported by The Washington Post. "The number includes about 10 million people who do not have a history of heart disease or stroke and 6.6 million people who are taking daily aspirin without a doctor's advice or knowledge," the newspaper reports. And for more medication to look out for, If You're Taking This OTC Medicine More Than Twice a Week, See a Doctor.

Aspirin is a blood thinner that can lead to hemorrhaging.

Idar-Oberstein, Germany - May 7, 2014: One Aspirin tablet, containing 0.5 gram of acetylsalicylic acid as active pharmaceutical ingredient, located on its blister pack with ten tablets. Aspirin is one of the most common and used pharmaceutical drugs worldwide. In 1897 Aspirin was first synthesized by the german company Bayer. It was mainly used to relieve pain and aches, but today it is also known to help to lower the risk for strokes, heart attackes and maybe some type of cancer if taken in low dosis regulary. This packaging is the one being sold in Germany.

Because of its constant fixture in the home medicine cabinet and prior recommendations for daily use, many of us regard aspirin as a fairly benign substance. However, the properties that make it useful for those with heart problems—a thinning of the blood, which allows it to move around the body more easily—can also lead to serious problems in those who have no cardiac issues.

A five-year study published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2018 concluded that for this reason, "aspirin use in healthy elderly persons did not prolong disability-free survival over a period of 5 years but led to a higher rate of major hemorrhage than placebo." And for more OTC medication to be careful around, check out This Is When You Should Take Tylenol Instead of Advil, Doctors Say.

Advice around aspirin changed recently.

close up senior woman using hand to touch stomach after feeling pain
Chainarong Prasertthai / iStock

In March 2019, the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology updated their advice around the benefits of aspirin. These medical guidelines suggested people who have only low or moderate risk of heart disease should not take aspirin daily, considering the possible benefits do not outweigh the risks. They specifically flagged the potential of aspirin to increase the chance of severe bleeding and, over the longer term, lead to peptic ulcers.

Steven Nissen, MD, Chief Academic Officer for the Heart and Vascular Institute, reinforced this point in a piece for Cleveland Clinic. "Baby aspirin is not a benign intervention," he said, referring to 81-mg pills. "There has been evidence for many years that for patients who have never had a cardiovascular event, taking daily aspirin poses as many risks as benefits." And for more health advice delivered right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

Always speak to your doctor before changing your regime.

Woman talking to doctor

Experts are clear that nobody should abruptly change their medication or daily routine without first speaking to their primary care provider. "I want to emphasize that these new guidelines are referring only to people who don't have heart disease, haven't had a stroke and don't have some other compelling reason to be on aspirin," Christina Wee, MD, then an associate professor of medicine at the Harvard Medical School, said at the time the guidelines changed, according to Reuters.

For patients who've had a bypass, or been fitted with a stent, or have previously had a heart attack, their doctor may well advise a continuing regime of aspirin. But for those who are self-medicating, this may well be one pill you would be better off doing without. Speak to your doctor and see if it's doing you more harm than good. And for more on the latest health advice, check out why If You Feel This at Night, You Need to Get Your Liver Checked, Doctors Say.

John Quinn
John Quinn is a London-based writer and editor who specializes in lifestyle topics. Read more