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“Aspirin a Day” Controversy Thickens

Posted by bmagnus On February - 26 - 2010

This week, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force came out with new recommendations on the use of daily low-dose aspirin to prevent heart attacks and strokes. In fact, the recommendations are so new they aren’t on their official website yet as I write this. The short version is that they think fewer people should be taking aspirin daily due to the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding. However, just last year this same task force said that more people should be taking aspirin daily!

Here’s a summary of the new guidelines:

For most people who’ve had a heart attack or stroke, the new guidelines don’t apply. Those people should CONTINUE TAKING ASPIRIN. And, a daily aspirin IS recommended for certain MEN, ages 45 to 79, with increased heart-attack risk. For WOMEN, the guidelines don’t focus on heart attack risk. Instead, the task force recommends women take aspirin regularly if they are 55 to 79 and in danger of having a stroke — the type caused by blood clot — because aspirin inhibits blood-clotting action, possibly averting formation of a clot that could cut off oxygen to the brain and heart.

Aspirin Therapy is NOT recommended for people 80 and older. They could potentially benefit more than younger people because of their higher risk of heart disease, but the harms are also greater because the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding increases with age. These guidelines don’t recommend aspirin therapy for men under 45 and under and women 55 and under, because the incidence of heart attack and stroke is considered too low. But there are other factors that need to be considered when deciding on aspirin therapy.

However, despite the Wall Street Journal’s alarmist title, “The Danger of Taking Aspirin Daily,” they point out that there are other benefits of aspirin. For example, earlier this month there was news coverage of the finding from the Nurses Health Study that aspirin is linked to lower rates of metastasis, recurrence, and death from breast cancer!

So is low dose aspirin therapy right for you? Not if you’re over 80, and not if you’re under 45. Yes if you have any signs of heart disease (please consult your physician!). And you might just ask your doctor about it if you have a family history of cancer. But remember, this is the little 81 mg “baby aspirin” tablets, not the same kind you would take for a headache.

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