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Panel recommends daily aspirin to prevent heart attack, colorectal cancer

The new recommendation contradicts others issued by the government about preventive daily aspirin use.

By
Stephen Feller
Millions of people take aspirin every day to help prevent having a second heart attack or stroke, however research does not show the drug helps prevent a first cardiac health event. Photo by Syda Productions/Shutterstock
Millions of people take aspirin every day to help prevent having a second heart attack or stroke, however research does not show the drug helps prevent a first cardiac health event. Photo by Syda Productions/Shutterstock

ROCKVILLE, Md., Sept. 15 (UPI) -- A government body has published new guidelines advising that specific people take aspirin to help prevent heart attack and colorectal cancer, however some medical professionals are questioning them based on other studies and recommendations that say the opposite.

Previously, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated it does believe there is evidence to support that daily use of aspirin to prevent heart attack or stroke is correct.

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At low doses, aspirin has been shown to be beneficial for prevention of both health events. The dangers of taking too much, as well as unnecessary bleeding due to the drug's blood-thinning effects, can either counteract benefits or cause new issues for patients, some doctors say.

Members of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which is accepting public comment on the draft guidelines it published on its website, said they took previous research and accepted practice into account when crafting the new preventive suggestions.

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"Each person has only one decision to make -- whether or not to take aspirin for prevention," said Dr. Douglas Owens, a professor of medicine at Stanford University and member of the task force, said in a press release. "To help individuals and their clinicians make this decision, the task force integrated the evidence about the use of aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer into one recommendation on the use of aspirin."

The guidelines suggest daily low-dose aspirin for people age 50 to 59 who have increased risk of heart attack or stroke. They also recommend that people age 60 to 69, with more caution and based on their individual health risks, take aspirin to prevent cardiovascular disease and bleeding.

The benefits of lowered risk for colorectal cancer if taken for at least 10 years also would be expected for all people between age 50 to 69.

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The recommendations, the task force said, apply to people who are not at risk for bleeding, are expected to live at least 10 more years, and are willing to take the medication every day.

Concerns about daily aspirin relate specifically to bleeding, including in the stomach and brain, led the FDA to issue a warning in 2014 about using the drug where "benefit of aspirin for primary prevention has not been established."

The agency notes that for people who have had a heart attack or stroke, or have another coronary artery disease, the benefits of aspirin to prevent a second similar event outweigh the dangers of other bleeding.

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Task force members stressed that the guidelines do not apply to people across the board and individuals should discuss with their doctors whether aspirin is a good choice for them.

Despite the caveat, some question the wisdom of the guideline at all, especially considering its contradiction with previous government recommendations.

"I think that millions of Americans are taking aspirin -- some of them are really the 'worried well,'" Steven Nissan, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at Cleveland Clinic, told NPR. "With all the good therapies, better blood pressure control, better cholesterol control, all the things we do in modern medicine over the last couple of decades, we've had nearly a 50 percent reduction in the rate of cardiovascular disease. It's just not prudent or safe."

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