For years, a daily dose of aspirin was recommended by many physicians to help prevent heart attack, stroke or other cardiovascular events for their patients.

However, new guidelines by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology now advise against the use of aspirin, saying it actually might cause more harm than good.

Aspirin has been shown to can irritate the lining of the stomach. For anyone who takes aspirin regularly, gastrointestinal bleeding is a key concern. Studies indicate the benefits of stroke or heart attack prevention from a daily low-dose of aspirin didn’t outweigh the risks of a heathy adult taking aspirin.

The new guidelines recommend:

>> A daily aspirin for adults in their 50s who are at high risk for coronary artery disease with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a history of smoking.

>> Adults who have already experienced a heart attack or stroke can prevent another event by taking a daily low dose aspirin (81 mg).

>> For healthy people 70 and older who have not suffered a previous heart attack or stroke, there is no apparent benefit to taking a daily aspirin.

The new recommendations do not apply to patients who already experienced a heart attack, stroke, open heart surgery or any type of interventional heart procedure for heart disease. These patients should continue to take their low-dose aspirin as recommended by their physician.

Any patients who are on an aspirin regimen that are questioning whether they need to continue should consult with their physician at their next appointment before stopping on their own.

Even with these new guidelines, some doctors will consider recommending aspirin for those patients who have a strong family history of heart disease, or for tests such as coronary calcium scoring that detects considerable plaque build-up inside the arteries.

Coronary calcium scoring is a noninvasive method of determining the presence of coronary artery disease in someone without symptoms who is also at an increased risk of coronary artery disease. It is a very quick and painless test that only takes about five minutes. The calcium score is obtained from a CT scan. The score indicates the amount of calcium in the arteries around the heart. After the study, the score numbers are calculated and reported to your physician.

Coronary calcium scoring screenings are available at McLeod Regional Medical Center, McLeod Dillon, McLeod Loris and McLeod Seacoast with a physician referral. McLeod offers the coronary calcium scoring screening for $99. Unfortunately, screening programs are generally not covered by insurance. Patients should also understand that the $99 only covers the screening and not any recommended follow-up care by the physician.

The best protection against heart disease is adopting a heart healthy lifestyle, which includes eating a heart healthy diet, getting regular physical activity and keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under control. All of these things together will do more to prevent a heart attack and stroke than a daily aspirin.

Dr. Alan Blaker is an Interventional Cardiologist with McLeod Cardiology Associates and is accepting new patients. Self-referrals are welcome. Appointments can be made by calling 843-667-1891. For patients who have urgent concerns requiring the services of a cardiologist, same-day appointments are available at the McLeod Cardiology Associates Florence office. Patients who call before noon will see a McLeod Cardiologist that day. Patients who call past noon will be offered a next-day appointment.