Published: Tue, September 18, 2018
Medical | By Johnnie Horton

Aged over 70 and healthy? A daily aspirin won't help

Aged over 70 and healthy? A daily aspirin won't help

Research into almost 20,000 older people found those who were generally healthy derived no protective benefit from the blood-thinning pill - but it increased their risk of unsafe bleeds.

Researchers in both studies found that even low-dose aspirin carries a risk of internal gastric bleeding, and the newer study also found that older patients who were not at high risk of cardiovascular disease saw no health benefits from taking aspirin daily.

Major risks of bleeding in people who consume aspirin on a daily basis overwhelm its benefits.

"We knew there would an increased risk of bleeding with aspirin, because there has always been", said study coauthor Dr. Anne Murray, a geriatrician and epidemiologist at the Hennepin Healthcare Research Institute and the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.

Over a four-year span starting in 2010, the trial enrolled more than 19,000 people in Australia and the US who were 70 and older, or 65 for African-American and Hispanic participants because their risks of dementia or cardiovascular disease are higher.

These were the findings of a seven-year study into the benefits and risks of a daily, low dose of aspirin in people over 70 years.

The participants were followed for around 4.7 years and could also not have dementia or a physical disability and had to be free of medical conditions. None of the participants was known to suffer from heart disease, dementia or persistent physical disability at the time of enrollment.

The study concluded that taking aspirin without a health condition is quite ineffectual in preserving health.

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Clinically significant bleeding - hemorrhagic stroke, bleeding in the brain, gastrointestinal hemorrhages or other hemorrhages that required transfusion or hospitalisation - occurred in 3.8 per cent on aspirin and in 2.7 per cent taking the placebo.

Hadley noted only 11 percent of participants had regularly taken low-dose aspirin before entering the study. Previous studies found aspirin may be protective against certain kinds of cancer. These extra cancer deaths explained the slightly higher mortality rate seen overall in the aspirin group. "It is possible pre-existing cancers may have interacted with the aspirin".

The study involved 19,000 people aged over 70 and has been in practice for seven years.

"But we have not identified results that are strikingly different", McNeil said in an email.

However anybody who is taking aspirin should speak to their prescriber before ceasing the medication, says AMA president Dr Tony Bartone. Patients now get statins to lower cholesterol and anti-hypertensive medications to lower blood pressure.

Prof McNeil cautioned the findings did not apply to those with existing conditions where aspirin is recommended as a preventative measure against further heart attacks, strokes or angina.

In the meantime, experts are warning against healthy people simply popping an aspirin every day and believing it will fix everything that ails them.

People are prescribed aspirin after a heart attack or stroke because the drug thins the blood and reduces the chances of a repeat attack.

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