Over 60? Don't Start Doing This to Prevent Heart Attacks, Doctors Warn
The risks could outweigh the benefits.
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 revised their guidance regarding this rule. Read on to find out what previously-recommended practice experts say may no longer be worth the risk for people over 60—and who should continue to do it.
Heart disease and stroke are leading causes of death in the United States.
"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.
This new guidance has been in the works for a while.
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.
"Data suggest that the increased incidence of bleeding associated with aspirin use occurs relatively quickly after initiating aspirin," the statement says, noting that age, gender, race and ethnicity, the presence of diabetes, and risk level for cardiovascular disease do not appear to affect the likelihood of bleeding due to aspirin use.
For people over 60, experts say the risks of starting a daily aspirin regimen outweigh the benefits.
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."
For people already taking daily aspirin, the guidance is a little different. "Anyone who is currently taking aspirin should have a conversation with their clinician about their individual risk before deciding whether or not they should stop," the USPSTF says.
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."
Doctors may still recommend a daily aspirin for some people.
Those under the age of 60 should speak to their doctor when evaluating whether or not to take a daily aspirin to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. "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.