Millions of healthy older people with no history of heart attack or stroke take low-dose aspirin in the hope it will reduce their risk and prolong good health.
But a new Australian-led study has found that’s not the case.
The study of more than 19,000 healthy people aged over 70 found taking 100 milligrams of aspirin a day didn’t prolong their life or significantly reduce the risk of a first heart attack or stroke.
Handful of aspirin Lead researcher Professor John McNeil from Monash University said the results of the seven-year study should prompt people who take aspirin — when they have no medical reason for doing so — to reconsider whether it is a good idea.
And researchers found taking low doses of aspirin each day had potentially serious side effects.
The study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, found aspirin increased the risk of serious bleeding, a well-known side effect of aspirin.
“That’s an issue in the elderly when people’s blood vessels are a bit more fragile,” Professor McNeil said.
The results of the study only relate to healthy older people aged 70 and above and not to people taking aspirin on medical advice, such as those who have had a heart attack or stroke.
Researchers also looked at whether taking aspirin affected the likelihood of developing dementia, but found little difference between those who took aspirin and those who took a placebo.
The Heart Foundation does not recommend that people who do not have coronary heart disease take daily aspirin.
“People aged over 45 with no known coronary heart disease will benefit most from a healthy lifestyle and seeing their doctor for risk assessments such as blood pressure, cholesterol and sugar levels,” a spokesperson for the Heart Foundation said.
Research ‘great benefit to older people’
Bruce Holloway is 90 but still plays tennis twice a week.
He puts his good health down to being active and in a position to make a contribution, like taking part in clinical trials.
He was keen to participate in the aspirin study when his GP asked him to take part.
“Elderly people can make a contribution to society and this is a good way of doing it,” he said.
The participants weren’t told whether they were taking aspirin or not.
“I am confident this is an important result and will have great benefit to the older people of the world,” Mr Holloway said.
“It’s important that old people in their 70s, 80s and 90s can make a contribution to society like this.”
Consult your GP first
Doctors say it’s important to seek medical advice before making any changes to your medication.
President-elect of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners Dr Harry Nespolon, who was not involved in the study, said some older patients might be taking aspirin because they think it’s a good idea.
“They think, ‘what’s a little aspirin going to do to me?’ But there are serious consequences, as the study shows,” he said.
Dr Nespolon said while there have been mixed opinions on whether giving healthy people aspirin is a good idea, this new study “clearly shows people over 70 shouldn’t be taking aspirin as simply an aid to their health”.
ASPREE study: A snapshot
At the beginning of the study, known as the ASPREE (Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly) trial, researchers in Australia and the United States recruited more than 19,000 adults aged 70 years and above who had no history of cardiovascular disease, dementia or disability.
Participants were randomly assigned to receive 100 milligrams of aspirin each day or a placebo pill, and were followed for an average of 4.7 years.
The researchers found the use of low-dose aspirin did not prolong disability-free survival (a measure used to reflect a healthy lifespan) among healthy older adults.
“We measured this by how long it took for people to remain healthy without having a permanent physical disability or developing dementia. In other words, how long people spent in a healthy state,” Professor McNeil said.
Researchers also found the use of low-dose aspirin did not substantially lower the risk of cardiovascular disease in healthy older adults, and instead significantly increased their risk of major haemorrhage (bleeding that can lead to a stroke).
(Story courtesy of ABC News Health Report Australia.)