Millions of aging Americans worried about heart attacks and strokes have for years popped a low-dose aspirin each day, thinking the blood thinner might lower their risk.
But new guidelines issued Sunday by two cardiology groups say that, for most adults, the practice may no longer be warranted.
The new heart health guidelines were issued jointly by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA).
The two groups agree that for older adults at low risk -- no history of heart attack, stroke or cardiac surgeries -- the risk of bleeding that comes with daily low-dose aspirin is now thought to outweigh any heart benefit.
"Clinicians should be very selective in prescribing aspirin for people without known cardiovascular disease," Dr. Roger Blumenthal, co-chair of the 2019 ACC/AHA Guideline on the Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease, said in a statement.
"It's much more important to optimize lifestyle habits and control blood pressure and cholesterol as opposed to recommending aspirin," said Blumenthal. He's a professor of cardiology at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore.
The bottom line, according to Blumenthal: "Aspirin should be limited to people at the highest risk of cardiovascular disease and a very low risk of bleeding."
Why the change?
The AHA and ACC say that the most up-to-date research shows that even at a low dose (typically 81 milligrams), the odds for dangerous bleeding that comes with daily aspirin use now outweighs any benefit.
Dr. Kevin Campbell is a cardiologist working in North Carolina. Speaking with CNN, he said that advances in cardiovascular care may have also rendered daily aspirin an obsolete treatment for the average person.
"For the most part, we are now much better at treating risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes and especially high cholesterol," explained Campbell, who wasn't involved in drawing up the new guidelines.
"This makes the biggest difference," he said, "probably negating any previously perceived aspirin benefit in primary prevention."