New study debunks aspirin claims

Leslie Hanson
September 17, 2018

The clinical trial, which ran from 2010 to 2014 and included 19,114 individuals 70 years and older from the USA and Australia, found that a low daily dose of aspirin only marginally decreased a patient's risk of cardiovascular disease while significantly increasing the patient's risk of hemorrhage. But when researchers looked at more than 19,000 people in Australia and the United States over almost five years, they found it wasn't so.

Popping an aspirin pill everyday doesn't help older people to live longer and it may even have the opposite effect, a new study reveals. There is substantial evidence that supports the daily use of aspirin for secondary prevention of heart disease, which means patients are prescribed the drug after they've already experienced a heart attack or stroke. "The concern has been uncertainty about whether aspirin is beneficial for otherwise healthy older people without those conditions". Bleeding is a well-known side effect of aspirin, and is more common in older people.

Prof McNeil said: "Despite the fact that aspirin has been around for more than 100 years, we have not known whether healthy older people should take it as a preventive measure to keep them healthy for longer". They were followed for a median of 4.7 years.

The trial has "provided convincing evidence that aspirin is ineffective in preserving good health in elderly people without a medical (reason) to be using it", chief author Dr John J. McNeil of Monash University in Melbourne told Reuters Health in an email.

The ASPREE (Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly) trial found an aspirin a day did not prolong life free of disability, or significantly reduce the risk of a first heart attack or stroke among participants - "with little difference found between the placebo and aspirin groups".

The study also showed slightly higher rates of death in those taking aspirin, primarily from cancer, although the results were not statistically significant, he said. The difference was attributed nearly entirely to cancer, a leading killer of older people, and not internal bleeding. Previous studies have not shown such increases, and reductions in bowel cancer have been seen in some studies.

The researchers did not state whether healthy older people who have been taking aspirin should stop. Patients who were black or Hispanic and living in the U.S. - two groups that face a higher risk of heart disease or dementia - could be age 65 or older.

However, it must also be noted that the results of the study do not apply to those people who are taking aspirin because of a heart attack or stroke. The risk is generally calculated using factors such as age, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, smoking history and other conditions such as diabetes. For adults 60 to 69, the task force recommended the decision should be made on a case-by-case basis.

"[The elderly population] is where the taking of aspirin is most likely to have its risks", McNeil explained.

Treatment with aspirin did not affect survival free of dementia or disability, the study found, and rates of cardiovascular events, such as coronary heart disease, non-fatal heart attacks and strokes, were also similar to the placebo group.

But the rate of bleeding was significantly higher in the aspirin group: 3.8 percent vs. 2.8 percent. Half the participants were asked to take 100mg of aspirin each day, while the rest took a placebo pill.

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