Aspirin doesn't lower heart attack and stroke risks and can increase bleeding

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Professor McNeil said the study showed that 3.8 per cent of people in the cohort who took aspirin experienced serious bleeding, compared to 2.8 per cent of those taking a placebo.

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.

There is evidence that aspirin can help to prevent heart attacks and strokes in people with heart problems, and doctors had hoped that the same would be true for the general population.

The study involved 19,114 generally healthy volunteers (no history of cardiovascular disease, dementia or physical disability) living in Australia and the United States.

While a total of three studies were conducted, the primary study took over four years, and more than 19 000 people over the age of 70 took part.

A regimen of low-dose aspirin offers healthy, older people no benefit in staving off cardiovascular disease, dementia or disability and increases their risk of bleeding in the digestive tract and brain, according to a large study released Sunday.

They also attributed the higher mortality in this test group to cancer-related deaths. In fact, the group taking aspirin had an slightly elevated risk of death compared to the placebo group (5.9% vs 5.3%).

McNeil added that a small increase in deaths observed in the aspirin group, primarily from cancer, required further investigation as researchers can not rule out that it may be a chance finding.

A large clinical trial involving participants in Australia and the U.S. found a daily low-dose aspirin had no effect on prolonging life in healthy, elderly people.

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"We knew there would an increased risk of bleeding", a study co-author tells NBC News (aspirin is a blood thinner).

Research into almost 20,000 older people found those who were generally healthy derived no protective benefit from the blood-thinning pill - but it increased their risk of risky bleeds. However in patients without these conditions, it should not be recommended, particularly in elderly where risk of bleeding is high. In fact, it's estimated that millions of people around the world now take a daily low-dose of aspirin as a preventative.

"The rate of major hemorrhage was 8.6 events per 1000 person-years and 6.2 events per 1000 person-years, respectively (hazard ratio, 1.38; 95% CI, 1.18 to 1.62; P 0.001)".

Dr. Ravi Dave says aspirin may make sense for a small group of older, healthy patients, even if they haven't already had a heart attack or stroke, such as smokers. It is important to note that the new findings do not apply to people with a proven indication for aspirin such as stroke, heart attack or other cardiovascular disease.

And what about people with high blood pressure or high cholesterol who might be taking other medicines to mitigate a higher risk of heart attack or stroke?

Experts and current guidelines recommended a daily aspirin is most beneficial for adults in their 50s who are at risk of heart disease.

With the growing proportion of elderly people in our community, a major focus of preventive medicine is to maintain the independence of this age-group for as long as possible.

"The increase in cancer deaths in study participants in the aspirin group was surprising, given prior studies suggesting aspirin use improved cancer outcomes", Dr. Leslie Ford, associate director for clinical research in the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Prevention, said.

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