Regular Aspirin for Heart Disease Prevention Can Be Dangerous, Says Panel

The risks might overshadow the benefits for those who haven’t had a heart attack before.

by Ethan Freedman

For years, federal health officials have recommended that many adults at risk for heart disease take a low dose of aspirin once a day.

But now, a panel of experts is planning to rescind that recommendation for many people, noting potential risks such as bleeding, reports The New York Times. Heart disease remains the primary cause of death in the US, with over 800,000 people experiencing a heart attack each year.

Aspirin has been used for decades as an anti-inflammatory drug, and it is generally considered safe. Many people also use the medicine as a preventative measure against cardiovascular issues such as heart attacks, based on existing recommendations from health experts.

But now, the US Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), a federal panel of experts, has collected a new batch of data from studies conducted in the last seven years to reassess this advice.

They found that while daily low-dose aspirin showed modest reductions in risk for some heart issues (about 11% for myocardial infarction and 18% for stroke, for example), the risk of complications such as bleeding in the digestive system or brain went up.

The USPTF notes that these risks are higher in older people. Because of that, the panel’s draft recommendation advises against anyone 60 or older from taking aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or other heart issues. The draft also states that people between 40 and 59 years old at a higher risk for heart issues could consider taking a daily aspirin on a case-by-case basis, but that the potential net benefit is small.

Previously, the panel recommended that most adults in their 50s at a higher risk for heart disease and a low risk for bleeding take a little aspirin every day. For those in their 60s under the same circumstances, they noted that the decision should be made individually. They did not previously recommend aspirin as heart disease prevention in anyone younger than 50 or older than 70.

Notably, this change does not apply to people who’ve already had a major cardiac event like a heart attack, NBC News reports. In addition, the panel notes that this draft recommendation does not apply to people already taking aspirin. If you are currently taking a daily aspirin regimen, please speak with your doctor before making any changes, Dr. Chien-Wen Tseng, a panel member, told the Times.

These recommendations have implications for American men in particular — while heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women, it is responsible for a slightly higher percentage of men’s deaths than women’s deaths, according to the CDC.

This means it’s vitally important for men to take effective steps to keep their hearts healthy. The CDC suggests eating healthy and limiting alcohol consumption, in addition to regularly visiting your doctor to get tested for diabetes, high blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.