Will an Aspirin a Day Keep the Cardiologist Away?

The latest recommendations from the USPSTF may — or may not — be for you.

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Don't start popping a daily dose of aspirin just yet.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) — an independent panel of volunteer experts in prevention and evidence-based medicine — has released its official recommendation on taking aspirin to prevent heart disease and colorectal cancer.

Following its much talked-about draft recommendation from September, the USPSTF has made a few small changes. It's the first time that the panel has formally recommended low-dose aspirin for preventing both heart disease and colorectal cancer, according to the Washington Post.

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The final word? The USPSTF suggests considering adding the common anti-inflammatory and blood thinner to your daily health regimen if you:

  • are between the ages of 50 and 69,
  • have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, and
  • are not at increased risk for bleeding.

Why is it worth considering? The full recommendation and reviews published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, state that cardiovascular disease (including stroke) and colorectal cancer caused more than half of all the deaths in the United States in 2011.

"It's very important to point out [the USPSTF is] not saying everyone should be on aspirin," Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD, director of cardiovascular research and vice president of translation at the Huntington Medical Research Institutes in Pasadena, California. "You're looking at a certain age group, first of all."

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And there's more: Aspirin is not suitable for everyone, and it can actually do more harm than good for some.

"Some people are allergic to it, and… some people are prone to bleed," Dr. Kloner explains. "And so if you have a history of bleeding ulcers or other bleeding problems, then you are probably not going to be a candidate for aspirin."

He adds that cardiologists, in general, do prescribe aspirin, especially for patients with coronary heart disease. "But [the USPSTF is] talking here about primary prevention, so patients who have a high risk of coronary disease and who have a chance of having a 10 percent or greater risk of heart attack or stroke."

So, let's say you're in your mid-50s and think you might be at risk of heart disease — how do you know if your risk is 10 percent or greater? "Those risk factors are based on these various calculators, like from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, which takes into account things like cholesterol and high blood pressure," Kloner says.

Your best bet: If you fit within the age and health guidelines of the USPSTF's recommendation, ask your doctor if you could benefit from taking a daily low-dose aspirin.

This article has been updated from its original September 2015 version to reflect the official USPSTF recommendation.

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