Researchers say daily low-dose aspirin does raise the risk of bleeding in older adults
What do you do when something you’ve treated as a received truth turns out to be untrue? Does it give you a headache?
Go ahead, take an aspirin, but — according to a new study — don’t expect the little white pill to prevent a heart attack.
An older adult in reasonably good health who takes a low-dose aspirin every day may find that it’s more harmful than you think.
The new study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, consisted of a clinical trial that included residents of both the United States and Australia.
It concluded that a daily low-dose aspirin had no effect on prolonging life in healthy elderly people.
It also showed a higher rate of a major hemorrhage.
The study came as no surprise to Dr. Ragavendra Baliga, a cardiologist at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“This study confirms what we’ve been doing [the] last few years,” Baliga told Healthline.
He cited a 2015 study that showed serious health concerns.
“The benefits don’t prevent side effects,” he said.
He noted that patients with diagnosed heart disease still benefit from low-dosage aspirin, but that for otherwise healthy people, it does not work as a preventative.
Starting in 2010, and continuing for four years, the latest trial enrolled more than 19,000 people in Australia and the United States who were 70 and older, or 65 for African-American and Hispanic participants, because their risks of dementia or cardiovascular disease are higher.
None of the participants had cardiovascular disease, dementia, or a physical disability.
About half of participants were given 100 mg of low-dose aspirin while the rest were given a placebo.
Aspirin had no effect on whether people would be diagnosed with dementia or a disability.
About 90 percent of the people who took aspirin survived and had no persistent physical disability or dementia.
The same was true of about 90 percent of people on the placebo.
However, researchers discovered that people taking the aspirin showed a higher risk of bleeding, such as hemorrhages.
John McNeil, head of the Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine at Monash University in Australia, said in a statement that the study had useful findings.
“These findings will help inform prescribing doctors who have long been uncertain about whether to recommend aspirin to healthy patients who do not have a clear medical reason for doing so,” McNeil said.
“The take-home message of such a complex, large, placebo-controlled study is that healthy older people contemplating how best to preserve their health will be unlikely to benefit from aspirin,” he added.
But bleeding, a well-known side effect of aspirin, was borne out by the study, with a small increase (3.8 percent) in cases of serious bleeding among aspirin takers versus (2.8 percent) in those who took the placebo.
“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.
While aspirin remains a relatively safe medication, it’s not benign and patients should follow the advice of their doctor about daily low-dose use, McNeil concluded.
“This study shows why it is so important to conduct this type of research so that we can gain a fuller picture of aspirin’s benefits and risks among healthy older persons,” explained Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, in a statement.
The study was led in Australia by McNeil and associate professor Robyn Woods, from the School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine based at the Alfred Medical Research Precinct.
The U.S. component of the study was led by Dr. Anne Murray, a professor, and Brenda Kirpach from the Berman Center for Outcomes and Clinical Research in Minneapolis.