Taking an aspirin a day to stave off ill-health may be a waste of time for millions of older people.
A landmark study led by researchers at Monash University in Melbourne has found that the costs of taking low-dose aspirin to prolong good health and reduce their risk of heart attack and stroke may outweigh the benefits for healthy people over 70.
The seven-year-study of more than 19,000 healthy people focused on the use of aspirin as a preventative medication for elderly people who have not previously suffered a heart attack or stroke.
It found that taking an aspirin a day (100mg) didn’t prolong their life or significantly reduce the risk of a first heart attack or stroke.
Lead researcher John McNeil from Monash University said the results will prompt a rethink of guidelines relating to the use of aspirin to prevent common conditions linked to ageing.
“Despite the fact that aspirin has been around for more than 100 years, we have not known whether healthy older people should take it as a preventative measure to keep them healthy for longer,” Professor McNeil said.
The joint Australian-US research, known as the ASPREE trial (Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly) is the largest clinical trial ever conducted in Australia.
Participants took either aspirin or a placebo every day for four-and-a-half years.
As well as finding that there was little difference between the two groups in terms of disease prevention, the trial found that participants taking the aspirin (a blood thinner) were more likely to suffer from serious bleeding.
Bleeding is a well-known side effect of aspirin, and is more common in older people.
“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,” Professor McNeil said.
Millions of healthy older people around the world who are taking low-dose aspirin without a medical reason may be doing so unnecessarily.
He cautioned that the results of the study – published in the New England Journal of Medicine – only relate to healthy people over 70 and said all patients should still follow the advice of their doctor about their daily use of aspirin.
Professor McNeil said the results do not apply to people with existing conditions such as a previous heart attack, angina or stroke.