Taking daily aspirin for heart attack prevention could pose more health risks than benefits, according to a new preliminary recommendation.
Do you take a low-dose aspirin (also known as baby aspirin) every day? It's estimated that millions of people do to help prevent heart attack and stroke. But after a panel of health experts said that it's now clear that regimen poses more health risks (such as bleeding) than benefits, a lot of people already taking aspirin are left wondering: What should I do now?
The short answer: Don't panic.
Here's what you need to know about the new recommendation and what steps you should take to stay safe and healthy.
Who's Making This Guidance About Daily Low-Dose Aspirin?
The new guidelines are from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, a panel of medical and disease prevention experts. It's an independent group and is not part of the U.S. government. It's important to know that the guidance released on Oct. 12 is only a draft — so it could still change. The task force is accepting public comments on the draft until Nov. 8 and then will publish the final version after.
What Exactly Did They Say?
- Because of the potential risks, the task force advises people 60 and over not to take a daily low-dose aspirin for prevention if they are healthy or haven't had a previous cardiovascular event (like a heart attack or stroke).
- For people 40-59, who are already at a 10% or greater risk of having a cardiovascular event in the next 10 years, there is only a small benefit to taking a daily low-dose aspirin for prevention. They should talk with their doctor about the potential risks and benefits before starting a regimen.
What Are Those Potential Risks of Taking Low-Dose Aspirin Every Day?
Bleeding events, such as:
- Bleeding in the stomach (which can cause shock, anemia or death)
- Bleeding in the brain (which creates pressure and can cause brain damage or death)
Aspirin is an anti-inflammatory drug, and it's also an anti-platelet that acts as a blood thinner. That's why it's used to help prevent blood clots, heart attack and stroke. It can help keep your blood flowing freely through your arteries. However, this effect puts you at a greater risk of a bleeding event. Plus, your risk of bleeding increases anyway as you age. So, the task force says, the benefits of taking low-dose aspirin "become smaller with advancing age because of an increased risk for bleeding."
Should I Worry I'll Have a Bleed? What Signs Should I Watch For?
While you should be vigilant of your health and body, don't stress. Here are the warning signs you should be on the lookout for.
Risk factors and causes include excessive drinking, ulcers, hemorrhoids, conditions like inflammatory bowel disease and tears in the esophagus.
- Bright red blood in vomit
- Vomit that looks like coffee grounds
- Black, tarry stool (dark blood in stool)
- Bright red blood in stool
- Abdomen cramps
- Weakness, tiredness, and/or dizziness
- Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the body
- Sudden, severe headache
- Stiff neck
- Nausea and vomiting
- Trouble speaking or swallowing
- Loss of vision or sensitivity to light
- Loss of consciousness
Should I Stop Taking My Daily Low-Dose Aspirin Immediately?
No. Do not do this. Stopping any medication abruptly without talking with your doctor could cause adverse health effects.
Do I Need to See My Doctor Right Away?
"It's not an emergency that they need to see their doctor right away," says Dr. Michael Crupain, head of The Dr. Oz Show medical unit. But you should reach out and schedule an appointment.
"Remember that this particular guidance is still a draft and not finalized, so some doctors may want to wait to make changes and others will have a different opinion," Crupain says.
What Should I Ask My Doctor About My Daily Low-Dose Aspirin?
You can start the conversation by talking about why they put you on daily aspirin in the first place, Crupain says, and if the potential benefits of taking it are greater than the potential risks. So, what is your risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event, like a heart attack or stroke? What is your risk of experiencing a bleeding event? And how do these two compare to each other for your overall health?
Takeaway: Own Your Health
Crupain stresses that these changes in recommendations happen because the science and data changes — really, it progresses. So while changes can be frustrating, it's an opportunity for you to get familiar with your health and take charge of it. Don't panic, but speak with your doctor to learn your conditions, risk factors and individual medical needs so you can know how a medical recommendation could affect you.