Traditionally, aspirin has been considered a good way for healthy people, especially older adults, to avoid cardiovascular disease. However, the results of a large-scale study suggest that taking aspirin daily for an extended period of time might not be safe for healthy seniors after all, even when the dosage is low.
According to NBC News, adults who are in their 50s or older and considered to be at high risk of cardiovascular disease are advised to take a daily aspirin. This applies to older adults who have risk factors such as high blood pressure, a history of smoking, or high cholesterol levels. With that in mind, the new study, which was funded by the National Institute of Aging and published Sunday in the New England Journal of Medicine, sought to determine whether low-dose daily aspirin does indeed shield seniors with no previous signs of heart disease from cardiac events.
For the study, a total of 19,114 seniors, including 2,411 Americans and 16,703 Australians, were enrolled and observed for an average of 4.7 years. While Caucasian participants had to be at least 70 years old at the time they were enrolled, African-American and Hispanic participants had a slightly lower minimum age of 65, due to their increased risk of heart disease and dementia. NPR noted that the participants were divided into two groups, one which was given a daily dose of 100 milligrams of aspirin and another which was given a placebo.
Once the trial period was completed, 90.3 percent of the seniors in the aspirin group and 90.5 percent of those in the placebo group were still alive. Likewise, rates of heart attacks, strokes, and coronary heart disease and rates of physical disability and dementia were observed to be similar for both groups. According to University of Minnesota geriatrician and epidemiologist Anne Murray, a co-author on the new study, this meant that daily aspirin does not have a “discernible” benefit if consumed by older adults.
Aside from the study showing that aspirin might not protect seniors from heart disease as once thought, it was also suggested that patients with a moderate risk of cardiovascular disease are at a greater risk of internal gastric bleeding if they take an aspirin a day, due to the medication’s blood-thinning capabilities. This, according to NBC News, was in line with an August study that warned low-dose aspirin is too risky for such patients.
“We knew there would an increased risk of bleeding with aspirin because there has always been,” said Murray.
“But not only did it not decrease risk of disability or death, it did not decrease the risk of heart attack and stroke, and there was an increase in the rate of death.”
While previous papers had suggested aspirin could be helpful in protecting people from certain types of cancer, the study also revealed that cancer deaths were more common in the group of seniors that was given a daily aspirin dose. According to Murray, cancer was the leading cause of death among the people in that group, as there’s a chance pre-existing cancer had “interacted” with the aspirin in a manner that worsened the disease.
According to Evan Hadley of the National Institution of Aging, the study’s findings are a sign that older people should “think twice” about using aspirin. He told NPR that seniors thinking of taking aspirin at their advanced age should consult a medical professional before doing so, though in most cases, it might not be advisable to take the medication.
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