'Aspirin-a-day risky in old age' - major study

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"It means millions of healthy older people around the world who are taking low dose aspirin without a medical reason, may be doing so unnecessarily, because the study showed no overall benefit to offset the risk of bleeding", McNeil added. Among those taking aspirin, 8.6 percent experienced a major bleeding episode versus 6.2 percent of those taking the placebo. Hemorrhagic stroke, bleeding in the brain, gastrointestinal hemorrhages or hemorrhages at other sites that required transfusion or hospitalization occurred in 361 people on aspirin and in 265 taking the placebo.

He warned that the results do not apply to people with existing conditions such as a previous heart attack, angina or stroke, where aspirin is recommended to prevent further illness. It was called the Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) trial.

Extra cases of cancer were the chief reason for the higher death rate, with 3.1 per cent of aspirin users dying of cancer versus 2.3 per cent in the control group. And 5.9% of those taking aspirin died during the study, compared to 5.2% of the placebo-takers.

"Clinical guidelines note the benefits of aspirin for preventing heart attacks and strokes in persons with vascular conditions such as coronary artery disease", Richard J. Hodes, director of the National Institute on Aging, which helped fund the research, said in a news release. All participants had to be free of dementia or a physical disability.

The results from the trial, published Sunday in three studies in the New England Journal of Medicine, show that the rate of cardiovascular disease was 10.7 events per 1,000 person-years in the aspirin group and 11.3 events per 1,000 person-years in the placebo group.

Professor John McNeil, head of Monash University's Department of Epidemiology and Preventative Medicine, said the research sought to answer a question which has been "unresolved for a number of years". ASPREE has provided this answer.

Aspirin has always been used as a preventative measure to help reduce the risk of blood clots in patients who have suffered a heart attack or stroke. The difference wasn't statistically significant, meaning it could have been due to chance. (A typical "low dose" aspirin contains 81 milligrams of the drug). "It is to the great credit to the US NIH and the Australian NHMRC that they recognised this need and underwrote the substantial cost of undertaking a study of this magnitude".

Doctors in India say the findings have come as an eye opener for Indian population where self prescription is common.

Taking low-dose aspirin daily doesn't preserve good health or delay the onset of disability or dementia in healthy older people.

Dr Tony Bartone, national president of the AMA, spoke to Sky News' Ashleigh Gillon on Monday and said that Global Positioning System are happy to discuss any patient concerns.

"The use of low-dose aspirin resulted in a significantly higher risk of major hemorrhage and did not result in a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease than placebo", the researchers conclude in one of the papers.