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Too Many Older Adults May Be Taking Daily Aspirin

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Too Many Older Adults May Be Taking Daily Aspirin

Two commonly recommended or prescribed drugs — daily aspirin, and the cholesterol-lowering drugs statins — may not be taken by the right proportion of older adults, according to a new study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

Both daily aspirin and statins have been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular events in some people, but they’re not recommended universally. As the study notes, aspirin is generally recommended for adults with a moderate to high risk of developing atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (fatty deposits in the arteries) who have a remaining life expectancy of at least 10 years, and are willing to take aspirin daily for at least 10 years. This means that aspirin is most likely to be recommended for adults ages 50–59, with less evidence to support its benefits for people ages 60–69. People under 50 or at least 70 years old are generally not considered candidates for daily aspirin without a personal history of cardiovascular disease (CVD).

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Statins, on the other hand, are generally recommended at low to moderate doses for adults ages 40 to 75 who don’t have a history of CVD, but have one or more cardiovascular risk factors (such as diabetes, hypertension [high blood pressure] or abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels) and a moderate to high risk of developing atherosclerotic CVD. There isn’t enough high-quality evidence, the researchers write, to recommend that most adults over age 75 take either aspirin or a statin daily to help prevent CVD.

Rates of statin use vs. aspirin use

Using data from the U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 2011 and 2018, the researchers looked at use of both aspirin and statins in adults ages 50 and older. They found that daily use of aspirin — mostly at low doses, as is recommended for preventive benefits — tended to increase with age, and were quite similar across the range of years in the study. In 2017 and 2018, rates of daily aspirin use, almost always at the recommendation of a doctor, ranged from 20.0% in adults ages 50–54 to 49.6% in adults ages 70–74, and 53.7% in those ages 75 and older.

Daily use of statins also tended to increase with age, ranging in 2017 and 2018 from 17.8% in adults ages 50–54 to 47.7% in adults ages 70–74 and 52.3% in those ages 75 and older. While these numbers are broadly similar to those for daily aspirin, the different clinical recommendations for each drug mean it’s likely that more older adults could benefit from taking statins than currently take them — while it’s likely that too many older adults are taking daily aspirin, and may be at higher risk for adverse effects like bleeding as a result.

“Further steps are required to increase the use of statins in older adults with existing CVD,” the researchers wrote. “The education of both healthcare providers and their older patients regarding the compelling benefits of using statins for the secondary prevention of CVD is important.” On the other hand, they note, “Healthcare providers should inform their older patients about the appropriate aspirin use, so that they can avoid misuse of aspirin, which can easily be purchased over the counter.”

Want to learn more about protecting your heart? Read “Be Heart Smart: Know Your Numbers,” “Does Diabetes Hurt Your Heart?” “Fight Off Heart Disease With These Five Heart-Healthy Foods” and “Lower Your Risk of Heart Disease.”

Living with type 2 diabetes? Check out our free type 2 e-course!

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips

Quinn Phillips on social media

A freelance health writer and editor based in Wisconsin, Phillips has a degree from Harvard University. He is a former Editorial Assistant for Diabetes Self-Management and has years of experience covering diabetes and related health conditions. Phillips writes on a variety of topics, but is especially interested in the intersection of health and public policy.

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