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

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But a large, new, worldwide study finds that, even at low doses, long-term use of aspirin may be harmful - without providing benefit - for older people who have not already had a heart attack or stroke.

"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 preventive measure to keep them healthy for longer", said John McNeil, who led the trial at Monash University in Melbourne.

In the UK, GPs generally do not advise aspirin for pensioners who have not previously suffered cardiovascular problems, such as a heart attack or stroke.

When the participants were followed up almost five years later, doctors found that compared with the placebo, a daily aspirin had not reduced the risk of heart attack or stroke, or prolonged the number of years people lived without dementia or physical disabilities.

It was called the Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) trial. That compares with 90.5 percent of those taking a placebo. In the August study and the new one, researchers found a significant risk of internal gastric bleeding caused by the medication, which thins the blood. No, says a large scale study that was actually meant to study how aspirin could help!

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Participants took either aspirin or a placebo daily over a four-and-a-half year period.

Using the help of Global Positioning System, researchers recruited 16,703 older people in Australian and 2411 in the United States, with approximately 9500 people in both the aspirin and the placebo group.

This latest study has indicated just how bad the side-effects can be with a clear increase in the number of cases of serious bleeding among aspirin takers at 3.8 per cent compared to the placebo group at 2.8 per cent. It is used for a variety of ailments ranging from one-off pain relief from a headache to the prevention of blood clots in those at risk of heart attack and stroke.

'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'. Previous studies found aspirin may be protective against certain kinds of cancer.

"The concern has been uncertainty about whether aspirin is beneficial for otherwise healthy older people without those conditions". Patients who were black or Hispanic and living in the United States - two groups that face a higher risk of heart disease or dementia - could be age 65 or older.

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The data also revealed essentially no difference between the two groups in their rates of developing disability and dementia.

The study found the higher death rate in the aspirin-treated group was due primarily to a higher rate of cancer deaths.

"There was more bleeding, particularly from the stomach and upper gastrointestinal tract", Prof McNeil told AAP.

"After a median of 4.7 years of follow-up, the rate of cardiovascular disease was 10.7 events per 1000 person years in the aspirin group and 11.3 events per 1000 person years in the placebo group".

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