In a study that upends decades of medical advice, Australian scientists have found that taking an aspirin a day does not reduce older people’s risk of heart disease or cancer—and in fact, can cause them serious harm. For four and a half years, researchers observed more than 19,000 adults in Australia and the U.S. with no history of heart disease, stroke, or dementia and with a median age of 74, reports. Half were given 100 mg of aspirin a day, while the other half received a placebo. At the end of the study, those who had been taking the drug were just as likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke—and faced a higher risk of dangerous internal bleeding in the stomach, brain, and elsewhere.
The aspirin-takers actually had slightly higher rates of mortality over that period, in large part because of deaths from cancer—though researchers cautioned that further study was needed to assess any possible link between aspirin and cancer. They also emphasized that their results didn’t counter previous findings that aspirin is beneficial for those who have already suffered from heart disease or stroke. “Millions of healthy older people around the world who are taking low-dose aspirin without a medical reason may be doing so unnecessarily,” says lead author John McNeil, from Monash University in Melbourne. “These findings will help inform prescribing doctors.”
Aspirin has been used since ancient times to relieve pain and inflammation. Today, aspirin is often recommended for patients who have suffered heart attacks or strokes. But what are the risks you should be aware of? Aspirin can increase the risk of bleeding in the stomach, small intestine, and brain. Normally, there is a layer that protects the insides of the stomach and intestine from the acid in your stomach. If aspirin is taken at high doses and for a long time, it can slowly damage this layer. This damage can lead to bleeding. Using aspirin to prevent blood clots can also affect the natural healing of damaged blood vessels and increase the risk of bleeding in the brain.
Common side effects of aspirin include rash, gastrointestinal ulcerations, abdominal pain, upset stomach, heartburn, drowsiness, headache, cramping, nausea, gastritis, and bleeding.
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