Daily Low-Dose Aspirin Might Not Protect Against Heart Attacks or Stroke

In what is surely a disappointing discovery to many older Americans who have been taking low doses of Aspirin to protect against heart attacks and strokes, a new study has found there is not protective affect from low-dose, daily aspirin consumption.

The study showed that the recommendation to take aspirin to prolong healthy, independent living in otherwise healthy people 70 years or older is without merit. The hope had been that aspirin would be a key contributor to helping people age gracefully in better health.

“The thinking was the double action of blood thinning and anti-inflammation might decrease the risk of dementia and disability,” explained senior researcher Dr. Anne Murray.  Murray is the director of the Berman Center for Outcomes and Clinical Research at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis.

The study not only showed that daily aspirin does not protect, but can even place older folks at a higher risk for bleeding in the brain and in the gastrointestinal tract.

“We were so hoping that such an inexpensive and accessible medication might be effective in prolonging healthy independent life,” Murray added.

For younger people there might still be a benefit in taking daily low-dose aspirin. Between the ages of 50 and 59, those with increased risk of heart disease are still advised to take daily aspirin, according to the US preventive Services Task Force.

For seniors aged 60-69, the decision to take aspirin daily should be made on an individual basis, since the medicine only increases health when there is more than a 10% elevation in risk for heart disease.

The study was based on 19,000  subjects in Australia and the USA,  with an average age of 74. Half were given daily low-dose aspirin, and the other half received a placebo.

The results were not only disappointing, but surprising. The aspirin-taking group in fact had an increased chance of death; 5.9% versus 5.2%. Since the extra deaths were caused by cancer researchers concluded that chance was to blame. However, the aspirin-taking group had clinically significant more instances of bleeding.

“There’s definitely an increased bleeding risk, and it’s not benign,” said Dr. Vincent Bufalino, a cardiologist and spokesman for the American Heart Association. “The intracranial bleeding risk is obviously a terrible complication.”

The results of the clinical trial, which took place between 2010 and 2014, were printed in the September 16 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine.