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Aspirin-a-day does more harm than good if you're healthy

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Older people are advised to take an aspirin a day as a just-in-case therapy to reduce their risk of heart disease—but the drug is doing more harm than good in healthy people and is increasing the risk of life-threatening bleeding.

The tipping point seems to happen around the age of 70 when any protective effects of aspirin are far outweighed by its dangers, say researchers. Only people with existing heart problems should continue taking the drug.

But even much younger people—aged from 45—shouldn't be taking aspirin if they are healthy; instead, they should be looking to prevent heart disease with a healthier diet and exercise, say researchers from Monash University in Australia.

 

The researchers looked at the effects of the drug on a group of 19,114 healthy people aged 70 and above, half of whom were given 100 mg aspirin a day and the rest a placebo, or dummy drug. But there was hardly any difference in the numbers of heart disease in the two groups after seven years—but the rate of life-threatening haemorrhage, including bleeding in the stomach and brain, was much greater in the aspirin group. Bleeding in the brain could cause a stroke, the researchers said.

The risk of bleeding seems to increase with age, and it may be to do with the deteriorating health of the arteries.

Aspirin is still a proven therapy for people who have heart disease or suffered a heart attack, but it's not safe as a preventative for healthy people, and especially as they get older, the researchers conclude.

(Source: New England Journal of Medicine, 2018; doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1805819)

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