Does an aspirin a day really keep heart attacks away?
On the basis of 40-year-old research, millions of people in their 40s and older take a low-dose (81-100 mg) aspirin tablet every day as a way of heading off clots that can blocking blood flow to the heart or brain, triggering heart attacks or strokes.
But that research has been overtaken by events.
“That was a time when we weren’t really focused on doing a particularly good job of controlling things like blood pressure and cholesterol,” says Donald Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association and chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine.
Since then, medical research has developed drugs for managing blood pressure and cholesterol. It’s documented the preventive value of a lifestyle that includes a healthy diet, at least 30 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise regularly, and no smoking. And it’s discovered that aspirin’s blood-thinning ability can cause dangerous, perhaps fatal, bleeding in people over 60 years old. That risk can cancel out aspirin’s benefits, particularly for people with no history of heart attacks or strokes.
That’s why a U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) draft report, based on data from randomized, controlled trials, concludes that daily low-dose aspirin may have only a “small net benefit” and is is changing its guidelines accordingly. Among other things, those guidelines recommend against taking aspirin regularly if you’re older than 70.
“Our message…is 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,” panel member Chien-Wen Tseng noted. (Tseng is a professor in the University of Hawaii John Burns School of Medicine.) “At that point, the risk of bleeding with age actually balances out the potential benefit of aspirin,” she added. The benefit “is smaller than what we’ve seen before.”
This doesn’t mean you should grab all your aspirin tablets and throw them into the garbage. But it also means that you shouldn’t just buy a bottle off the shelf and start taking low-dose aspirins like vitamins.
Particularly if you’re 60 or older, before either starting or stopping a low-dose aspirin regimen, you should have a serious conversation with your primary care doctor or, better, your cardiologist – particularly if you’re at high risk of cardiovascular issues and haven’t been able to control your blood pressure or cholesterol with medication or other means.
Because heredity, health history, and lifestyle factors vary so much from one person to the next, the USPSTF guidelines say that an older person’s decision to either stop or start taking low-dose aspirin every day “should be an individual one.”
To our way of thinking, every senior care decision should be an individual one.
That’s why, while many senior care agencies base their care recommendations strictly on the capabilities they offer, we base ours on the fact that every person is different.
Before we recommend any kind of care management plan, we diagnose. Our thorough three-part needs assessment covers not only each client’s physiological signature, but goes beyond it to determine their mental, functional, cognitive, and social signatures as well. It also includes ascertaining what clients’ and family caregivers’ specific values, needs and desires are, so we can honor those as well.
Please contact us to learn how learning, and adapting our services to, each person’s unique individual differences can help make life longer, healthier, and happier.