Study questions daily aspirin heart benefits

January 16, 2012
PREVENTION
Daily aspirin seems to offer no benefit
to people without existing heart disease

THE QUESTION Taking a daily low-dose aspirin has been proven beneficial for people who have had a heart attack or have narrowed arteries, but many people without cardiovascular disease take aspirin each day in hopes of staving off heart problems. Is this warranted?

THIS STUDY analyzed data from nine studies, involving 102,621 adults (average age, 57) who had been randomly assigned to take aspirin, generally 100 milligrams or less, or a placebo daily. No participants had cardiovascular disease when the studies started. In a six-year span, noted medical problems included 2,169 cases of coronary heart disease and 40,712 incidents of bleeding. In that time, deaths related to cardiovascular disease, including heart attacks and strokes, occurred at essentially the same rate for people who did and did not take aspirin. Overall, aspirin-takers had a 10 percent lower chance of having a cardiovascular problem (primarily a heart attack or stroke), a number fueled mainly by a 20 percent lower risk for a fatal heart attack. No differences were found between men and women; older people seemed to benefit more than younger ones. However, those taking aspirin had a 70 percent higher risk for bleeding problems; the chance of more-serious bleeding was 30 percent greater, especially among younger people.

WHO MAY BE AFFECTED? People without cardiovascular problems who take aspirin daily. Sometimes referred to as a blood thinner, aspirin helps keep blood from forming clots that can block flow to the heart or brain. Aspirin use also can lead to excessive internal bleeding.

CAVEATS The study authors urged against routine use of aspirin to prevent cardiovascular problems in generally healthy adults but acknowledged that benefits may outweigh risks for some people.

FIND THIS STUDY Jan. 9 online issue of Archives of Internal Medicine (www.archinternmed.com).

LEARN MORE ABOUT aspirin therapy at www.ahrq.gov (search for “aspirin”) and www.mayoclinic.com (search for “daily aspirin”).

Linda Searing

The research described in Quick Study comes from credible, peer-reviewed journals. Nonetheless, conclusive evidence about a treatment's effectiveness is rarely found in a single study. Anyone considering changing or beginning treatment of any kind should consult with a physician.

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