Aspirin truths a bitter pill for some
ASPIRIN does not prevent diseases associated with old age and taking it daily could actually be doing more harm than good, the largest study to investigate the trend has found.
A groundbreaking trial of more than 19,000 participants in Australia and the US, including 1365 from South Australia, has shed new light on the tablet’s health benefits.
A previous study has indicated around 40 to 50 per cent of people over 70 were taking aspirin daily, with many thinking it can boost overall health.
This new study is the most comprehensive of its type, and found an aspirin a day did not prolong a life free of disability or significantly reduce the risk of a first heart attack or stroke among participants. Little difference was detected between the placebo and aspirin groups.
The seven-year study also showed an increase in the number of cases of serious bleeding, specifically gastrointestinal or intracranial, among the aspirintakers. Bleeding is a wellknown side effect of aspirin and more common in older people.
The study, led by a team from Monash University, involved the University of Adelaide’s Professor Nigel Stocks as chief investigator from SA.
Prof Stocks said the idea that taking aspirin led to prolonged good health in older age seemed to have sprung from aspirin’s legitimate uses.
“People extrapolate,’’ he said. “You hear people are taking it to stop heart disease not realising that it’s because they’ve already had a heart attack or stroke.
“The benefits for using it to prevent another heart attack or stroke outweigh the potential bleeding problems.”
He said the study would result in a rethinking of global guidelines relating to the use of aspirin to prevent common conditions associated with ageing.
“Aspirin is a very useful drug that is widely and appropriately prescribed to people who have had a heart attack or stroke (cardiovascular disease),” Prof Stocks said.
“A large randomised controlled trial has been long overdue and (this) has provided the answer.
“These results now give guidance to doctors who were unsure as to whether taking aspirin regularly is beneficial for healthy older patients.”
Prof Stocks said patients should continue to follow doctor’s advice. The results are published in today’s New England Journal of Medicine.
Rod Williams, 74, from Campbelltown has been part of the study for five years and was not surprised by the result.
“I use aspirin infrequently,” Mr Williams said.
“Usually only for headaches and that kind of thing.
“I think its effective for that but I’m not sure whether it would have any affect on other kinds of health conditions.”