Experts Change Advice for Preventing Heart Attacks with Aspirin

    25 October 2021

    A group of health experts says older adults without heart disease should not take aspirin to prevent a heart attack or stroke.

    The group says the risk of bleeding inside the body for people 60 years of age and older is greater than the protection from heart disease.

    The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force released an early version of the new guidance recently. It is a government-appointed group of health experts on disease prevention.

    In addition to advice for older adults, the group for the first time said there may be a small benefit for adults in their 40s who have no bleeding risks. The experts also said there is less clear evidence of a benefit for those in their 50s.

    The group's guidelines are meant for people who are at higher risk of heart disease. This includes people with high blood pressure, high cholesterol, those who are highly overweight or who have conditions that increase their chances for a heart attack or stroke.

    Anyone considering whether to start or stop the aspirin treatment should talk with a doctor first, the group also advised.

    "Aspirin use can cause serious harms, and risk increases with age," said John Wong, a group member and doctor at Tufts Medical Center in Boston.

    This Oct. 15, 2021 photo shows a bottle of aspirin in the Brooklyn borough of New York.
    This Oct. 15, 2021 photo shows a bottle of aspirin in the Brooklyn borough of New York.

    Experts to make final decision

    In 2016, the prevention experts had advised that a small amount of aspirin each day could help prevent a first heart attack or stroke. The new advice is in agreement with more recent guidelines from other medical groups.

    Doctors have long advised small amounts of aspirin every day for many patients who already have had a heart attack or stroke. The groups guidance does not change that.

    The new guidance was announced online to let the public comment on it until November 8. The group will study the comments and then make a final decision.

    Wong said the guidelines are being updated because of new studies and reexamination of older research.

    Possible side effects

    Aspirin is best known as a medicine to reduce pain. But it also thins blood. This can reduce the chances for blood clots. But aspirin also has risks, even in small amounts. These include bleeding in the stomach or intestines and ulcers. Both conditions can be dangerous.

    Dr. Lauren Block is a researcher at the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research in Manhasset, New York. She said the guidance is important because so many adults take aspirin although they have never had a heart attack or stroke.

    Block is not on the task force. However, she recently stopped treating a patient with aspirin because of the possible bad effects. She instead began treating the patient with a cholesterol-lowering drug known as a statin.

    The patient is 70-year-old Richard Schrafel. He has high blood pressure and knows about his heart attack risks. Schrafel said he never had bad effects from aspirin. But he takes the new guidance seriously.

    Sixty-three-year-old Rita Seefeldt also has high blood pressure. She took aspirin every day for about 10 years until her doctor told her to stop two years ago.

    "He said they changed their minds on that," remembered the retired elementary school teacher from Milwaukee. She said she understands that science develops over time.

    I'm Mario Ritter, Jr.

    Lindsey Tanner reported this story for the Associated Press. Mario Ritter Jr. adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    stroke –n. a serious sickness caused when a blood vessel in your brain suddenly breaks or is blocked

    benefit –n. a good or helpful result or effect

    cholesterol –n. a substance found in the bodies of people and animals

    blood clot –n. a mass of dried blood that sops the flow of blood in the body and that can cause serious health problems

    ulcer –n. a painful area inside or outside the body

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