Advice shifting on aspirin use for preventing heart attacks

Bleeding risks for adults in their 60s and up who haven’t had a heart attack or stroke outweigh any potential benefits from aspirin, shown, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said in draft guidance Tuesday.

(AP) — Older adults without heart disease shouldn’t take daily low-dose aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke, an influential health guidelines group said in preliminary updated advice released Tuesday.

Bleeding risks for adults in their 60s and older who haven’t had a heart attack or stroke outweigh any potential benefits from aspirin, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force said in its draft guidance.

For the first time, the panel said there may be a small benefit to taking aspirin for adults in their 40s who have no bleeding risks. For those in their 50s, the panel softened its advice and said evidence of benefit is less clear.

The recommendations are meant for people who have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity or other conditions that increase their chances for a heart attack or stroke.

Regardless of their age, adults should talk with their doctors about stopping or starting aspirin to make sure it’s the right choice for them, said task force member Dr. John Wong, a primary-care expert at Tufts Medical Center.

“Aspirin use can cause serious harms, and risk increases with age,’’ Wong said.

If finalized, the updated advice for older adults would backtrack on recommendations the panel issued in 2016 for helping adults prevent a first heart attack or stroke, but it would be in line with more recent guidelines from other medical groups.

The task force previously said certain people in their 50s and 60s might want to consider taking a daily aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke, and that they might get protection against colorectal cancer, too. The updated guidance says more evidence of any benefit regarding colorectal cancer is needed.

Doctors have long recommended that many patients who’ve already have had a heart attack or stroke take a daily low-dose aspirin. The task force guidance does not change that advice.

The draft guidance was posted online to allow for public comments until Nov. 8. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force will evaluate that input and then make a final decision.

The independent panel of disease-prevention experts analyzes medical research and literature, and issues periodic advice on measures to help keep Americans healthy. Newer studies and a new analysis of older research prompted the updated advice, Wong said.

Aspirin is best known as a pain reliever but it is also a blood thinner that can reduce chances for blood clots. However, aspirin also has risks, even at low doses — mainly by causing ulcers or bleeding in the digestive tract, both of which can be life-threatening.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

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