RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:
It is commonly believed that taking an aspirin a day can help keep heart disease at bay. Well, a new study finds that too many Americans are taking aspirin as a preventive measure. Maanvi Singh reports.
MAANVI SINGH, BYLINE: More and more people who are concerned about heart disease are using aspirin these days. A national survey recently found that more than half of older adults are taking it regularly. But the Food and Drug Administration only recommends it for people who've already had a heart attack or stroke, or who are at extremely high risk. Craig Williams of Oregon State University led the study. He says the use of aspirin has been rising for decades.
CRAIG WILLIAMS: Aspirin truly is, going back over a century, one of our real miracle drugs. I mean, it's a drug that is derived from the bark of the willow tree and in the right setting does truly save lives.
SINGH: Aspirin thins the blood and can help prevent blood clots that cause heart attacks and strokes. But long-term use also comes with an increased risk for ulcers, gastrointestinal bleeding and bleeding in the brain, so using it as a preventative measure is very controversial. Steve Nissen, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic, says for most people, the chance that aspirin will prevent a first heart attack is about equal to the chance that it'll cause harmful side effects. So in his opinion, less is more.
STEVE NISSEN: The vast majority of people in America who take aspirin for prevention are what I like to call the worried well. They're people who are perfectly healthy. They may not even have a lot of risk factors, but they're very health conscious. And somebody told them that aspirin was good for preventing heart attacks, so they just started taking it.
SINGH: His advice is to avoid it unless your risk is really high, and discuss with your doctor first. For NPR News, I'm Maanvi Singh.
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