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Some people are losing faith in a federal task force and its advice that certain adults should take a baby aspirin every day to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But this task force is sticking to its recommendation, as NPR's Patti Neighmond reports.
PATTI NEIGHMOND, BYLINE: The task force says adults who could benefit the most from taking low-dose aspirin are between the ages of 50 and 59 and at risk of having a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years. Dr. Douglas Owens is a member of the task force. He says patients should talk with their health care providers about factors that increase risk of heart disease.
DOUGLAS OWENS: Your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your age, your sex and, potentially, whether you have conditions like diabetes.
NEIGHMOND: Owens says daily aspirin should be considered if patients have at least a 10 percent risk of having a heart attack or stroke over the next 10 years. Several groups including the American Heart Association offer online calculators to determine, along with a patient's doctor, whether aspirin might be helpful.
OWENS: Because heart attacks are caused by clots in the arteries of the heart, aspirin can help prevent a heart attack. It can also help prevent strokes that are caused by blood clots.
NEIGHMOND: Owens says aspirin's benefit is smaller once people turn 60, and it's unknown for people under 50 or over 70. Then, there's this caveat. Daily aspirin can cause bleeding in the stomach and brain, and certain medical conditions can put people at risk if they take aspirin.
OWENS: So, for example, people who have had a history of GI ulcers or a bleeding disorder or kidney problems or liver problems may be at increased risk of bleeding. Also, medications, such as other blood thinning medications or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, can also increase the risk of bleeding.
NEIGHMOND: Which is why he says it's important to consult your doctor. One of those concerned about the new recommendations is Dr. Steven Nissen, chief of cardiology at the Cleveland Clinic. He worries that lots of people take aspirin every day but don't need it.
STEVEN NISSEN: I think that millions of Americans are taking aspirin. Some of them are really the worried well. They're people whose risk is 5 percent or less. And in those people, taking aspirin is more likely to cause harm than benefit.
NEIGHMOND: Bleeding in the abdomen or brain can be extremely dangerous, even fatal. And Nissen says even people with heart disease risk higher than 5 percent may not need daily aspirin.
NISSEN: In today's world, with all the good therapies, better blood pressure, better cholesterol control, all the things that we do in modern medicine, over the last couple of decades, we've had almost a 50 percent reduction in the rate of cardiovascular disease.
NEIGHMOND: But, Nissen agrees with the general consensus that daily low-dose aspirin is beneficial for people who have had a heart attack or stroke. But for pretty much everyone else, assessing actual heart disease risk in consultation with a doctor is crucial to deciding whether to take aspirin every day. Another factor to consider - the task force says daily aspirin for at least five years may also protect against colorectal cancer in people who are also at high risk of heart disease. Patti Neighmond, NPR News.
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