Updated 27 September 2018

Daily aspirin may involve more risk than reward

A study shows that healthy older adults who take a daily 'preventative' aspirin do not experience health protection but are instead at higher risk of experiencing a major haemorrhage.

Three recent studies discovered that daily use of aspirin is unnecessary for older adults who are healthy – but the finding does not apply to people who already have an existing condition.

The studies, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, concluded that healthy older adults who take an aspirin tablet each day, did not experience improved, prolonged health, but were instead at higher risk of experiencing a major haemorrhage.

They found that the major haemorrhagic events suffered involved gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) and intracranial (inside the skull) bleeding.

An extensive study

While a total of three studies were conducted, the primary study took over four years, and more than 19 000 people over the age of 70 took part.

Those who participated in the studies were randomly given either 100mg aspirin or a placebo – both in the form of a tablet, which they took orally.

As a result of the third study, researchers concluded that there was a higher cause of death in the aspirin test group, in those who were believed to be healthy, than in the placebo test group.

They also attributed the higher mortality in this test group to cancer-related deaths.

Researchers, however, recognised and stressed the fact that according to previous research, those who have a history of heart attacks or strokes do benefit from the daily aspirin use, and that it outweighs the possible risks.

Those who do not have a risk of heart disease or dementia, suffered a stroke, or have a "persistent physical disability", are at greater risk of suffering a bleed due to taking aspirin daily and are not proactively prolonging their lives by using it as a preventative measure.

A long-overdue answer

Professor John McNeil, one of the researchers at Monash University in Australia, told The Independent that despite the fact that aspirin has been around for more than 100 years, it was never clear whether healthy older people should take it as a preventative measure to keep them healthier for longer.

"Aspirin is the most widely used of all preventative drugs and an answer to this question is long overdue. It means millions of healthy older people around the world who are taking low-dose aspirin without a medical reason may be doing so unnecessarily, because the study showed an overall benefit to offset the risk of bleeding," said McNeil.

In spite of the above results, researchers still say that if you are a healthy, elderly person and you have been taking aspirin daily, you shouldn't necessarily stop. You should rather ask your doctor for guidance on which steps you will need to take going forward.

Image credit: iStock




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