Daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks and strokes may do more harm than good. : Shots

People age 60 and older should not start taking aspirin every day to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Those currently taking it can consult their doctors about continuing.

Emma H. ​​Tobin/AP


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Emma H. ​​Tobin/AP


People age 60 and older should not start taking aspirin every day to prevent heart attacks and strokes. Those currently taking it can consult their doctors about continuing.

Emma H. ​​Tobin/AP

New guidance from the US Preventive Services Task Force says that people over 60 should not start taking low-dose aspirin every day to prevent cardiovascular events like heart attacks or strokes.

Low-dose aspirin had been a popular prevention measure, but as more evidence accumulated, its benefit was questioned. On Tuesday, the task force finalized new recommendations advising against the practice. The task force concludes that starting daily aspirin in adults age 60 and older “has no net benefit” and increases a person’s risk of internal bleeding.

For adults ages 40 to 59, a daily aspirin might have a “small net benefit,” according to the task force, which reviewed the most recent studies and weighed the benefits against the risks.

“What we found is that, compared to previous studies, aspirin appears to have less benefit for cardiovascular disease,” Dr. John Wong, a physician at Tufts Medical Center and a member of the task force, told NPR in November. “And there is an increasing risk of bleeding as people get older,” he says.

Whether you choose to take aspirin depends on your cardiovascular risk and should be decided with your doctor, says Wong. And while many people take aspirin safely, it can cause bleeding in the stomach, intestines, and brain, which can be life-threatening.

There are some important nuances of the guidelines. They do not apply to people who have already had a heart attack or stroke. And they don’t tell adults who currently take daily aspirin to stop taking it. However, the task force cautions that because of the increased risk of bleeding with age, patients may need to consider stopping daily aspirin use around age 75.

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the US, accounting for more than 1 in 4 deaths. Each year, about 600,000 people in the US have a first heart attack and about 600,000 people experience a first stroke.

The science has changed since the influential medical panel published its latest guidance on taking aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease in 2016. Dr. Salim Virani, a cardiologist at Baylor College of Medicine, says the latest studies aren’t finding as much benefit, in partly because people are taking drugs like statins.

“The benefit of aspirin has become marginal because we have these other therapies that reduce the risk of heart attacks or strokes, but the risk of bleeding associated with aspirin therapy has persisted,” he told NPR in November.

If you’re wondering what to do with the aspirin you’re currently taking, talk to your doctor, said Dr. Demilade Adedinsewo, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist.

“This information should basically get you having a conversation with your doctor,” he told NPR. “This is not a blanket recommendation that everyone who takes aspirin should stop taking aspirin.”

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