Some older people take a low dose of aspirin daily in the belief they are lowering their risk of heart attack and stroke. But while it’s a regimen that is often recommended by doctors for individuals who have previously had a heart attack or stroke, new research suggests that the risks may outweigh the benefits – especially for older people who are in good health.
For the study, almost 20,000 people, with a median age of 74, were recruited in Australia and the United States. All of the participants were deemed ‘healthy’ at the time they were enrolled, and had no previous history of cardiovascular disease, dementia or physical disability.
Half of the study group took 100mg of aspirin every day. The other half received a placebo. After around five years, the researchers followed up with the participants. They found no noticeable difference between the two groups when it came to “disability-free survival.” Similar rates of heart disease, stroke, dementia and disability were observed in both groups.
Moreover, the team of researchers actually documented a higher rate of bleeding in the aspirin group, compared to the group that received the placebo. In fact, they noted that “the risk of major haemorrhage was significantly higher with aspirin than with a placebo. Major haemorrhage events primarily involved upper gastrointestinal and intracranial bleeding.”
Benefits Of Daily Aspirin Still Not Known
Another finding of the study was that the aspirin group had a slightly increased risk of death compared to the placebo group (5.9% vs. 5.2%). However, the researchers noted that this may just be coincidental and more investigation is needed to determine if there is a definitive link.
Speaking about the study, Professor John McNeil, from Monash University, Australia, said even though Aspirin has been around for more than 100 years, the benefits of taking it for healthy older people are not known.
“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 no overall benefit to offset the risk of bleeding,” he said.
The findings of the research, which was led by Monash University in Australia and the Berman Centre for Outcomes and Clinical Research in the US, were published in The New England Journal of Medicine in three parts [1, 2 and 3].
As recommended by the NHS, a low-dose of aspirin should only be taken daily if a person’s doctor recommends it. People who have previously had a heart attack or stroke and those who are at high risk are usually prescribed such a regimen.
As this research suggests, taking aspirin when you are an otherwise healthy older person could be a waste of money at best. At worst, it could actually increase your risk of internal bleeding and even early death. Always consult your doctor before starting or stopping such medication.
Stephen joined Premier Choice in 2006 as a Group Risk consultant and became Head of Group Risk in June 2013. In December 2017, Stephen also took over responsibility for the Protection division within Premier Choice and works to grow this in the same way he has the Group Risk division. Protection is a specialist area and fits well with his experience and expertise in the group risk market.