If You're Over 60, Do Not Take This OTC Medication Every Day, Officials Say
As you get older, you're more likely to have a number of medications you take every day to address ongoing health issues. Some of these are likely prescribed by your doctor, while others may be over-the-counter (OTC) medications or vitamins that are thought to be beneficial to your day-to-day activities. But are you regularly taking something you shouldn't be? U.S. officials are now recommending that anyone over the age of 60 remove one very common OTC med from their daily routine altogether, because it might end up more harmful than beneficial for older adults. Read on to find out what medication you should not be taking every day.
On Oct. 13, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) posted a new draft, recommended a change in guidance for adults 60 years and older taking daily aspirin as a preventative measure against heart attack and stroke. According to the new document, the task force has found that the potential harm of taking this medicine every day cancels out its benefits for adults of this age group. "The USPSTF concludes with moderate certainty that initiating aspirin use for the primary prevention of CVD [cardiovascular disease] events in adults age 60 years or older has no net benefit," the report states.
Under the new proposed guidance, the task force is recommending that the decision to take a low-dose of aspirin every day for adults ages 40 to 59 with a 10 percent or higher 10-year CVD risk be an "individual one." Overall, the agency is recommending "against initiating low-dose aspirin use for the primary prevention of CVD in adults age 60 years or older," despite previously recommending this as an individual choice for this age group as well.
The Mayo Clinic says that aspirin side effects are much more common when taking copious amounts. These side effects include abdominal pain, bloody urine, change in consciousness, chest pain, convulsions, difficulty breathing, muscle cramping, and swelling. Other possible complications of taking aspirin every day include stomach ulcers, allergic reactions, and an increased risk of bleeding. According to the USPSTF, the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, intracranial hemorrhage, and hemorrhagic stroke also increases with older age, no matter what their aspirin use is. "For persons who have initiated aspirin use, the net benefits continue to accrue over time in the absence of a bleeding event. The net benefits, however, become smaller with advancing age because of an increased risk for bleeding," the task force explained.
"Daily aspirin use may help prevent heart attacks and strokes in some people, but it can also cause potentially serious harms, such as internal bleeding," USPSTF member John Wong, MD, reiterated in a statement. Talking to The Washington Post, Amit Khera, MD, director of the Preventive Cardiology Program at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, added, "Many people think of aspirin almost like a vitamin and that it's benign, but that's not true. When we talk about major bleeding, we're talking about bleeding in the brain, bleeding that needs transfusions, so not like nosebleed-type stuff."
According to the Mayo Clinic, daily aspirin therapy has been considered a "lifesaving option" for people who have had a heart attack or stroke in the past because it reduces blood clotting. But a June study analyzing eight years worth of data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Study up to 2019 found that a majority of people taking preventative daily aspirin have no history of heart disease. According to the study, an estimated 9.9 million patients are taking this medication this pill daily with no advice from their physician to do so.
"The latest evidence is clear: starting a daily aspirin regimen in people who are 60 or older to prevent a first heart attack or stroke is not recommended," USPSTF member Chien-Wen Tseng, MD, said in a statement. "However, this Task Force recommendation is not for people already taking aspirin for a previous heart attack or stroke; they should continue to do so unless told otherwise by their clinician."
In a statement to The New York Times, she added, "We don't recommend anyone stop without talking to a clinician, and definitely not if they have already had a heart attack or stroke." The Mayo Clinic says that stopping daily aspirin therapy can potentially cause a rebound effect that increases your risk of heart attack, especially if you have already had one.
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As the American Heart Association (AHA) explains, cardiovascular disease is an umbrella term for a number of conditions, including heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and heart failure. It is also the leading cause of death and disability worldwide, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S., resulting in about 1 in 4 deaths every single year. And according to the USPSTF, "age is one of the strongest risk factors for CVD," which is why daily aspirin therapy has been recommended for older adults in the past.
"People age 65 and older are much more likely than younger people to suffer a heart attack, to have a stroke, or to develop coronary heart disease (commonly called heart disease) and heart failure. Aging can cause changes in the heart and blood vessels," the National Institute on Aging (NIA) explains. The NIA says that the changes include your heart not being able to beat as fast during physical activity or times of stress, a buildup of fatty deposits in the walls of arteries over many years, and increased stiffness of the large arteries.