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Task force says most people should not take daily aspirin to prevent a heart attack


You might have heard that regularly taking a low dose of aspirin can lower your chance of a heart attack or a stroke. But new recommendations from a top U.S. medical panel say that for some people, starting daily aspirin could do more harm than good. NPR's Will Stone reports.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: People 60 years and older should not start taking aspirin to prevent that first heart attack or stroke. That's one of the big takeaways from the updated recommendations put out by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Dr. John Wong is a member of the task force, which sifted through the most recent studies and weighed out the benefits.

JOHN WONG: What we found is that compared to older studies, aspirin appears to have less benefit from cardiovascular disease.

STONE: And then they looked at the harms.

WONG: And there's an increasing recognition among healthy individuals of various ages that aspirin carries an increasing risk of bleeding as people age.

STONE: Wong emphasizes that many people take aspirin safely but that bleeding can happen in the stomach, intestines and brain, and it can be life-threatening. There are some important nuances with these guidelines. They do not apply to people who've already had a heart attack or stroke or to people who are already taking daily aspirin. And Wong says the guidance changes as you move into the age groups below 60.

WONG: Aspirin may have a small amount of benefit for people in their 40s or people in their 50s.

STONE: Whether you choose to take it, he says, depends on your cardiovascular risk and should be decided with your doctor. Demilade Adedinsewo, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, agrees.

DEMILADE ADEDINSEWO: This information should just basically make you have a conversation with your physician. This is not an all-blanket recommendation that everyone on aspirin should stop their aspirin.

STONE: The guidance hasn't been finalized yet, but cardiologist Kannan Mutharasan is already getting a bunch of calls.

KANNAN MUTHARASAN: Our office has been inundated with questions about this.

STONE: Mutharasan is at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. He says the updated recommendations weren't really a surprise. There were three landmark studies published a few years ago that led cardiologists to change their guidance on daily aspirin.

MUTHARASAN: The field has already started to have these conversations and make these adjustments and changes to fine-tune things for individual patients.

STONE: He says some patients over 60 may still ultimately decide, given their history, that it does make sense to start on aspirin. The task force will make a final decision after taking public comments. Will Stone, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Will Stone
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