A recent scientific data review has shown that aspirin may boost the risk of hemorrhage in the brain, stomach and intestines when ingested by healthy people. Aspirin is typically used to reduce fever and headaches.
But aspirin is also considered a blood thinner and can help prevent any blood clots that may lead to heart attack or stroke, hence healthy people taking them to ward off heart disease. The review states that, “cardiovascular benefits associated with aspirin were modest and equally balanced by major bleeding events.”
The used data was examined from 10 prior studies involving a total of more than 164,000 people with an average age of 62. In comparing aspirin users to those who don’t take aspirin, researchers found “significant reductions” in cardiovascular-related ailments from the former.
Statistically speaking, if 10,000 people without heart disease took no aspirin for a year, 61 of them would have a heart attack or stroke; if 10,000 similar people took aspirin for a year, 57 of them would have a heart attack or stroke. “The benefits were close to the risks,” points out Kevin McConway, an emeritus professor of applied statistics at The Open University.
According to the World Health Organization, heart disease is the top killer of people worldwide – claiming 17.9 million lives annually, one-third of all deaths globally. “The downside is the increase in major bleeding events, including bleeding inside the skull and brain or major bleeds in the stomach or gut,” added McConway.
But Jeremy Pearson, an associate medical director of the British Heart Foundation, points out that while the data review “valuably updates our knowledge and confirms that the average risk of harm exceeds benefit, guidelines should not be changed.” He says this as aspirin is not recommended in his local Britain for heart disease prevention.
Meanwhile in the United States, the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends “initiating low-dose aspirin use for the primary prevention of cardiovascular disease in adults aged 50 to 59 years.” Said individuals will have no increased risk of bleeding, and will have a life expectancy of at least 10 years.
Aspirin and cancer
The review also looked if there was any relationship between aspirin’s preventive benefits and cancer, but it found “no overall association between aspirin use and incident cancer or cancer mortality.”
One study found a 15 percent reduction in cancer death associated with aspirin use after five years of follow-up. However, the findings were not replicated in a second trial, which followed nearly 500 patients for seven years.
“The findings of this study suggest that the association of aspirin with cancer outcomes is neutral, with no suggestion of harm or benefit from the available current evidence,” said the data review.
All the same, the public must be wary when taking aspirin, even those with low-dosage or “baby aspirin”. “In my opinion, there is no place for routine use of aspirin in patients who are healthy,” says Sean Zheng, the lead author of the review.
Zheng also added, “Maybe it’s because it’s over the counter and it’s described as a baby aspirin, but actually our data show that there is a very real risk, and you shouldn’t take it with the expectation that it’s completely benign and safe.”
Story from AFP