As you get older, your pill box is probably getting a little fuller. While 45.8 percent of the U.S. population uses one or more prescription drugs, according to the Centers for Disease control and Prevention (CDC), those numbers skyrocket to 85 percent when looking at people over 60. Of course, that’s in regards to the prescription medications you’re told to take for various conditions that likely crop up with age. But you should be talking to your doctor about the over-the-counter (OTC) medications you take, too. Experts are warning that there is one OTC medication that you shouldn’t be taking daily if you’re over 70 without talking to a professional first. Read on to find out more about the medication to be wary of, and for more on common meds, If You’re Taking This OTC Medicine More Than Twice a Week, See a Doctor.
In recent years, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American college of Cardiology (ACC) have issued new guidelines recommending that people over the age of 70 without existing heart disease or prior heart attack or stroke diagnosis not take aspirin daily for prevention purposes. According to a 2019 guideline change, taking a low dose of daily aspirin had previously been a common practice among older individuals for the prevention of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD). But now, the guidelines advise that “low-dose aspirin should not be administered on a routine basis for primary prevention” of heart disease among adults older than 70.
“It’s a big shake-up, based on three large studies,” Christopher cannon, MD, a cardiologist at Harvard-Affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, told Harvard Health. “Two of the three showed there was no benefit to taking daily aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke.” And for more on when to take specific medications, This Is When You Should Take Tylenol Instead of Advil, Doctors Say.
According to a 2019 Harvard study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, nearly 29 million people 40 and older were taking an aspirin a day despite having no known heart disease. The researchers said that around 6.6 million of them were doing so on their own accord, without a doctor’s recommendation. The study also showed that nearly half of people over the age of 70 who don’t have heart disease—an estimated 10 million individuals—had been taking daily aspirin for prevention.
“Our findings suggest that a substantial portion of adults may be taking aspirin without their physician’s advice and potentially without their knowledge,” Christina Wee, MD, senior author for the study and then an associated professor of medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess, said in a statement.
Lead author Colin O’Brien, MD, a clinical fellow in medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess at the time, also added that there is a “tremendous need for health care practitioners to ask their patients about ongoing aspirin use and to advise them about the importance of balancing the benefits and harms, especially among older adults.” And for more up-to-date health news you can use, sign up for our daily newsletter.
Aspirin has blood-thinning properties, which means “it can increase the chance of bruising and bleeding, in addition to its other adverse reactions such as upset stomach, abdominal pain, rash, and headache,” Jessica Nouhavandi, PharmD, lead pharmacist and founder of online pharmacy Honeybee Health, previously told Best Life.
According to cannon, “aspirin was associated with an increased risk for bleeding severe enough to require transfusions or hospitalization.” Long-term use of this OTC medication is especially associated with an increased risk of major gastrointestinal bleeding. According to the Mayo Clinic, signs of gastrointestinal bleeding may include lightheadedness, difficulty breathing, fainting, chest pain, abdominal pain, vomiting blood, black tarry stool, and rectal bleeding.
Because of those risks and because studies haven’t determined any substantial benefits of daily aspirin usage for people without heart issues, experts say it shouldn’t be taken daily for the average person, even if they’re older. And for more tablets that could potentially put you in harm’s way, If You Take These 2 Supplements, Your Stroke Risk May Be High, Study Says
Part of the concern is that, according to the new AHA and ACC guidelines, people who are over the age of 70 have an increased risk of bleeding already. Additionally, people with a history of gastrointestinal bleeding or peptic ulcer disease, bleeding from other sites, thrombocytopenia (low blood platelet count), coagulopathy (bleeding disorder), chronic kidney disease, and people who are taking non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), steroids, and anticoagulants are also at risk. These individuals, no matter their age, should not be taking low-dose aspirin daily. Again, it should only be “considered for primary prevention of ASCVD in select higher ASCVD adults aged 40-70 years who are not at increased bleeding risk,” the AHA and ACC say. And for more medication help, Don’t Use Mouthwash If You’re Taking These 2 Medications, Experts Warn.