Can aspirin help prevent heart attack, stroke?

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For years, aspirin has been looked at as a wonder drug that helps reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke. Now, a panel of experts found new evidence that taking aspirin daily might also help prevent colon cancer.

Adults who take low-dose daily aspirin for 10 years or more can help to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease and colorectal cancer, according to updated guidelines from the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (USPSTF). The benefits of taking aspirin differed depending on age and risk of cardiovascular disease.

“Taking aspirin is easy, but deciding whether or not to take aspirin for prevention is complex,” said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, vice chair of the task force, in a news release. “People aged 50 to 69 should talk with their doctor about their risk of cardiovascular disease and risk of bleeding and discuss whether taking aspiring is right for them.”

The USPSTF came to this conclusion by using a risk calculator created by the American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association. The calculator was applied to numerous studies that assessed the link between daily low-dose aspirin and cardiovascular disease.

The group then gave letter grades to specific age groups depending on how highly they recommended daily aspirin use.

A“B” recommendation was given to adults 50 to 59 years old who have an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, but are not at increased risk for bleeding, have at least a 10-year life expectancy or were willing to take aspirin daily.

A “C” recommendation was given to those 60 to 69 years old. This means they could also benefit from taking aspirin, but the overall benefits were smaller due to the increased chances of stomach and brain bleeding, all of which are common side effects for aspirin intake.

Individuals under the age of 50 or older than 70 years old received an “I,” meaning that evidence was insufficient to assess the balance of benefits and harms for taking the drug.

Taking aspirin can become a controversial topic as some health experts fear healthy people will start taking the drug not realizing it can do more harm than good.

“The updated recommendations are important for physicians to consider so that they can provide the optimal benefits for their patients,” says Dr. Thomas Leskovac, a cardiologist at the Advocate Heart Institute at Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital in Barrington, Ill. “The very low cost of medicine can help provide great medical value in the carefully selected patients.”

The guidelines strongly advise people to consult with their physician before beginning an aspirin regime. The guidelines are not final, and are open to public comment.

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