For decades, Americans have been advised by doctors that taking a daily low-dose of aspirin can help prevent heart attacks and strokes–but a draft recommendation from an expert panel released Tuesday proposes stepping back from the practice, saying that the possible side effects outweigh the benefits.
For people ages 40 to 59 years old who have not had a heart attack, taking a low-dose of aspirin every day has only a “small net benefit” in preventing one, according to a draft proposal by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel made up of medical professionals.
The new guidelines would advise patients falling under those categories to consult with their doctor before starting an aspirin regimen, if approved.
The USPSTF has also proposed discouraging the drug for daily use in people 60 or older to prevent heart attacks, saying it carries an age-associated risk of increased bleeding.
The draft guidelines would not apply to anyone already taking a low-dose of aspirin or patients who have already experienced a heart attack, the board said.
The panel is also looking to reverse a 2016 recommendation that patients take aspirin to prevent colon cancer, after recent studies have raised doubts about the drug’s efficacy.
The guidelines are not final, and the USPSTF is accepting feedback on the proposed recommendations until early November.
“If you don’t have a history of heart attack and stroke, you shouldn’t be starting on aspirin just because you reach a certain age,” USPSTF member Chien-Wen Tseng told the Washington Post, adding he hopes the guidance will “get people to talk with their clinicians instead of just buying a bottle off the shelf and saying, ‘I should be on aspirin.’”
A low dose of aspirin is considered to be between 81 milligrams to 100 milligrams, sometimes called “baby aspirin.” Because aspirin is a blood thinner and can help block blood clots from forming in arteries, it has been used to prevent possible heart attacks. However, recent studies indicate that taking the drug regularly can go too far and increase the risk of bleeding in the brain and the digestive tract, especially in older patients.