After a certain age, it’s a good idea to get in the habit of doing things that will help keep your heart healthy—whether it’s choosing avocado toast instead of bacon for breakfast or going for a brisk afternoon stroll to get your blood pumping. But there’s one thing many people do daily that could be hurting their health more than it helps, and an influential group of doctors has now officially reversed their guidance regarding this rule. Read on to find out what previously-recommended practice experts say is no longer worth the risk for people over 60—and who might still be better off continuing to do it.
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“More than 877,500 Americans die of heart disease, stroke, or other cardiovascular diseases every year,” says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), noting that heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S.
It makes sense, then, that people are eager to do whatever they can to mitigate their risk of developing heart disease and suffering a heart attack. So in the early 1990s, when the American College of Chest Physicians recommended that people over 50 begin taking a daily aspirin to help prevent a heart attack or stroke, many people jumped on the bandwagon. More recently, however, more information has come to light and guidance has changed over the years.
Back in Oct. 2021, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) drafted new guidance regarding the common practice of taking a daily aspirin to prevent heart attack and stroke. They said that, “with moderate certainty,” people over 60 years of age would get “no net benefit” from taking a daily aspirin.
In fact, they said, it could be harmful, since taking aspirin comes with an increased chance of stomach ulcers and internal bleeding.
The drafted guidance has now become official. “Based on current evidence, the task force recommends against people 60 and older starting to take aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke,” USPSTF task force vice chair Michael Barry, MD, told ABC News. “Because the chance of internal bleeding increases with age, the potential harms of aspirin use cancel out the benefits in this age group.”
It’s worth noting that the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has long recommended against routine daily aspirin use. “It is important for the public to understand that for the vast majority of Americans without pre-existing heart disease, aspirin does not provide a net benefit. The harms are approximately equal to any benefits,” Steven Nissen, MD, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, told ABC News. “The USPSTF is just catching up with this widely accepted scientific viewpoint.”
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For people under the age of 60, the story may be a little different. “People who are 40 to 59 years old and don’t have a history of cardiovascular disease but are at higher risk may benefit from starting to take aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke,” task force member John Wong, MD and interim Chief Scientific Officer and Professor of Medicine at Tufts Medical Center, told ABC News.
“It’s important that they decide together with their healthcare professional if starting aspirin is right for them because daily aspirin does come with possible serious harms,” he explained.
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