A Daily Dose of Aspirin May Be Dangerous for Healthy Seniors

Desiree Steele
September 19, 2018

There is good evidence that taking aspirin can help people with known cardiovascular problems, but doctors were unclear if healthier-people benefited.

Those who do not have a risk of heart disease or dementia, suffered a stroke, or have a "persistent physical disability", are at greater risk of suffering a bleed due to taking aspirin daily and are not proactively prolonging their lives by using it as a preventative measure.

Lead researcher Professor John McNeil, of Monash University, Australia, said the study proves many older people may be taking the medicine "unnecessarily".

Dr Richard Hodes, director of the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) in the U.S., said: 'Clinical guidelines note the benefits of aspirin for preventing heart attacks and strokes in persons with vascular conditions such as coronary artery disease. But when researchers looked at more than 19,000 people in Australia and the United States over almost five years, they found it wasn't so.

The study of 19,000 elderly people in Australia and the United States looked at whether millions of over 70s around the world who take 100mg low-dose aspirin to preserve good health are deriving any benefit by doing so.


Treatment with aspirin did not affect survival free of dementia or disability, the study found, and rates of cardiovascular events, such as coronary heart disease, non-fatal heart attacks and strokes, were also similar to the placebo group. But aspirin's adverse effects (mainly bleeding) might also be increased as older people are at higher risk of bleeding. In the aspirin group, 448 people experienced cardiovascular events compared with 474 people in the placebo group.

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.

Big changes have occurred in preventive medicine since the original aspirin research was done, Michos told NBC News in an email.

ASPREE has provided this answer, Professor McNeil said.

Other studies have long shown that aspirin use can help prevent heart attacks and stroke in people who already have heart disease.


The ASPREE trial was funded by the US National Institutes of Health, the Australian National Health and Medical Council, Victorian Cancer Agency and Monash University.

They did increase the number of major stomach bleeds.

"This gives pause and a reason for older people and their physician to think carefully about the decision whether to take low-dose aspirin regularly or not", Hadley says. There's also a possibility that any colorectal cancer benefit wasn't seen because the subjects had only been followed for about five years. However, studies in younger people showed that the risks outweighed the benefits and the new research confirms that the same is true for the elderly.

Dr. Margolis said they've only just begun to scratch the surface of what they could learn about the long term effects of aspirin on people over the age of 70.

The researchers noted that aspirin was associated with a significantly increased risk of bleeding, primarily in the gastrointestinal tract and brain. Since the 1960s it has been known that aspirin lowers the risk of heart attack and stroke among those who have had heart disease or stroke before. Instead, it may cause them serious harm.


This is the first clinical study to focus on older people. In the final 12 months of the trial, 62.1 percent of the participants in the aspirin group and 64.1 percent of those in the placebo group reported that they were still taking their assigned dosage.

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