Taking Aspirin for Atherosclerosis

Man taking a pill with a glass of water.

Aspirin is a medicine often prescribed to treat atherosclerosis. This condition affects your arteries. These are the blood vessels that carry blood away from your heart. Having atherosclerosis means you’re at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke. Aspirin can help prevent these from happening.

How atherosclerosis affects your arteries 

A fatty material (plaque) can build up in your arteries. This makes it harder for blood to flow through them. A blood clot can then form on the plaque. This may block the artery, cutting off blood flow. This can cause conditions such as coronary artery disease (CAD) and peripheral arterial disease (PAD):

  • CAD occurs when plaque builds up in the coronary artery. This artery supplies the heart with oxygen-rich blood.

  • PAD occurs when plaque forms in leg arteries.

The same things that cause CAD and PAD can also cause plaque to form in other arteries in your body, such as those in the brain. When plaque occurs in any of these arteries, it raises your risk of heart attack or stroke.

What aspirin does

Aspirin is a blood-thinner (antiplatelet medicine). It helps keep blood clots from forming. This reduces the risk of blockage. Aspirin can be taken daily if you are at high risk of or have already had a heart attack or stroke. It is also used after a procedure called a stent placement. This is when a tiny wire mesh tube, or stent, is placed in an artery to keep it open. Aspirin helps prevent blood clots from forming on the stent.

Taking aspirin safely

Tell your healthcare provider about any medicines you are taking. This includes:

  • All prescription medicines

  • Over-the-counter medicines

  • Herbs, vitamins, and other supplements

Also mention if you have a history of ulcers or bleeding problems. Ask whether you will need to stop taking aspirin before having surgery or dental work. Always take medicines as directed.

Tips for taking aspirin

  • Have a routine. For example, take aspirin with the same meal each day.

  • Don’t take more than prescribed. A low dose gives the same benefit as a higher one, with a lower risk of side effects.

  • Don’t skip doses. Aspirin needs to be taken each day to work well.

  • Keep track of what you take. A pillbox with days of the week can help, especially if you take several medicines. Or use a list or chart to keep track.

When to call your healthcare provider

Side effects of aspirin are not usually serious. If you do have problems, changing your dose may help. Call your healthcare provider if you have any of the following:

  • Excessive bruising (some bruising is normal)

  • Nosebleeds, bleeding gums, or other excessive bleeding

  • An upset stomach or stomach pain