Despite a long-running recommendation for adults to take daily low-dose aspirin for heart health, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a panel of government experts, says most adults now should not. Here’s why.
Aspirin functions as an anticoagulant, preventing blood clots from forming. Heart attacks can be caused when a clot cuts off blood flow to the heart, while blood clots that cause a stroke. However, recent studies are showing that in most healthy adults, the same function of aspirin that helps prevent heart attacks might outweigh that benefit by an increased risk of bleeding.
For years, previous guidelines recommended that adults take a daily low-dose aspirin to prevent first heart attacks or strokes. This recommendation was updated again in 2016 by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF), an independent panel of US government experts.
The prior recommendation is related not only to the prevention of cardiovascular disease (CVD) but also to colorectal cancer (CRC). Particularly, it applied to adults aged 50 to 59 years who have a 10% or greater 10-year CVD risk, who are also not at increased risk for bleeding, have a life expectancy of at least 10 years, and who take low-dose aspirin daily for at least 10 years, according to the task force. The previous guidelines also didn’t address adults under the age of 50.
Under the new guidelines, people aged 60 and older are now advised not to begin taking aspirin to prevent first heart attacks or strokes, NBC reported. The updated guidelines also recommend that adults in their 40s and 50s only take aspirin as a preventative measure if their doctors determine they have an increased risk for heart disease and that aspirin may decrease that risk without creating a significant risk of bleeding.
Cardiologists still advise that although the task force is not recommending aspirin as a preventative measure, for anyone who has already had a heart attack or stroke, aspirin remains a very important medication.
The chief concern was that because aspirin prevents blood clots from forming, it increases a person’s risk of bleeding, in particular, preventing blood from clotting at the site of the wound. According to numerous studies, for most healthy people, the risk of bleeding caused by aspirin outweighs the benefit of preventing blood clots.
In 2019, the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology issued similar joint recommendations which stated people aged 70 and over should not take daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks or strokes because of an increased risk of gastrointestinal bleeding.