Aspirin is often prescribed to people who’ve had a heart attack or stroke to ward off future attacks. But new research indicates that may not be such a good idea.

An analysis of nine trials with more than 100,000 patients over six years, published in Archives of Internal Medicine, concluded that because the risk of internal bleeding is high, aspirin should only be taken by people with a history of heart problems or strokes.

Aspirin can stop blood clots from forming by preventing blood platelets from sticking together — and that reduction in clots can also reduce the risk of patients having another heart attack or stroke. In addition, there’s some data suggesting aspirin could prevent some cancers.

Researchers in the new study said that while there was a 20 percent reduction in non-fatal heart attacks in people taking aspirin, there was no reduction in deaths from heart attack, stroke or cancer, but the risk of potentially life-threatening internal bleeding increased by 30 percent.

“If you treat 73 people for about six years you will get one of these non-trivial bleeds,” said lead researcher Prof Kausik Ray from St George’s, University of London. “If you treat about 160 people for the same period of time, you’re preventing one heart attack that probably wouldn’t have been fatal anyway. It suggests that the net benefit for aspirin is not there … actually there is net harm.”

That said, Natasha Stewart, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, added, “If you’re taking prescribed aspirin and have any concerns, don’t simply stop taking it. Always talk to your doctor first.”

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