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Strong overall, NPR report on aspirin for heart protection would have benefited from more numbers

Panel Says Aspirin Lowers Heart Attack Risk For Some, But Not All

Our Review Summary

baby aspirinA federal task force has issued a recommendation to limit the daily ingestion of low-dose aspirin among Americans to individuals with a clear risk of heart attack or stroke.  This story delivers that message effectively but lacks the quantitative specificity that would have helped readers/listeners fully understand the possible benefits or harms of continuing their aspirin-a-day habit.  While a brief radio story may well be unable to be that specific, providing the additional information on the outlet’s text version of the story would be helpful.


Why This Matters

Many individuals with low risk of heart attack or stroke now take daily, low-dose aspirin in preventive mode.  If such a practice is—at best—useless or—at worst—harmful, folks need to know that.  This story makes a solid effort to inform.


Does the story adequately discuss the costs of the intervention?

Not Applicable

Cost is not a component of this story, but it does not appear to be as relevant an issue to this piece compared with other stories.

Does the story adequately quantify the benefits of the treatment/test/product/procedure?

Not Satisfactory

The story is clear about age ranges and health conditions that may make taking aspirin useful but does not offer any quantitative translation of the extent of benefits for these groups.  It similarly doesn’t make the quantitative case for the dearth of benefits for individuals who fall outside of these conditions. The recommendations issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) suggest that the absolute benefit is in fact quite modest, unless you are already at high risk for cardiovascular diseases.

Does the story adequately explain/quantify the harms of the intervention?


The article highlights the risks of taking aspirin daily, in particular the risk of bleeding. The article even brings in an independent source, Dr. Nissen, who discusses the bleeding risks. The story would have been stronger had it helped the reader/listener understand the likelihood of those harms, as the ubiquity of aspirin use in our culture may lead individuals to downplay the medicine’s possible harms. However, the story does enough to clear our bar here.

Does the story seem to grasp the quality of the evidence?

Not Satisfactory

The reader/listener will find no information about how the USPSTF utilized evidence to reach its recommendation. It would’ve been helpful for the article to contrast the new guidelines with the previous ones in place. In particular, what new evidence prompted the USPSTF to change their recommendations?

Does the story commit disease-mongering?


To its credit, the story offers a narrative that is the antithesis of disease-mongering.  Its primary goal is to inform the public that a task force of experts is recommending less use of a common, over-the-counter medicine.  The daily use of aspirin, for most reasonably healthy Americans, appears to be a “wash”; that is, both its benefits and harms will be negligible for most of us.  That last point is mentioned but could have been explained  a bit more thoroughly.

Does the story use independent sources and identify conflicts of interest?


The story doesn’t delve into potential conflicts of interest, but it does point out that the task force is an independent panel, and interviewed Dr. Nissen who is not part of the panel.

Does the story compare the new approach with existing alternatives?


The main point of the story is a recommendation to modify existing aspirin use habits.  So it nicely sets up a comparison between current practice and recommended behavior. The story also nods to other approaches and medications (e.g. cholesterol and blood pressure drugs).

Does the story establish the availability of the treatment/test/product/procedure?


Low-dose aspirin is readily available, of course, and the story makes this clear.  The story suggests that the typical healthy American NOT avail him/herself of this resource.

Does the story establish the true novelty of the approach?


The story makes it clear that the USPSTF recommendation differs from current practice among healthy adults.

Does the story appear to rely solely or largely on a news release?


We think it’s clear that the story is not based solely on a news release.

Total Score: 7 of 9 Satisfactory


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