29/05/2009

Widespread Use Of Aspirin Slammed

A new study in The Lancet medical journal has found that healthy people who take aspirin reduced their already small risk of heart attack or stroke by just 12%.

However, the small risk of internal bleeding increased by a third.

The researchers said this means there were five fewer non-fatal heart attacks for every 10,000 people treated, but this was offset by a comparable increase in bleeding - one extra stroke and three cases of stomach bleeding per 10,000 people treated.

In the secondary prevention studies - where patients were taking aspirin to prevent a repeat attack - aspirin reduced the chances of serious vascular events by about one-fifth and this benefit clearly outweighed the small risk of bleeding.

The new study was funded by the UK Medical Research Council.

It was headed by Professor Colin Baigent of the Clinical Trial Service Unit and Epidemiological Studies Unit at Oxford University, who said: "The latest research does not seem to justify general guidelines advocating the routine use of aspirin in all healthy individuals.

"Drug safety really matters when making recommendations for tens of millions of healthy people.
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"We don't have good evidence that, for healthy people, the benefits of long-term aspirin exceed the risks by an appropriate margin."

In effect, the study said that healthy adults who take daily aspirin to prevent heart attacks could be doing more harm than good.

A senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, Ellen Mason, said: "This study on the use of aspirin in primary prevention, partly funded by the BHF, provides further confirmation that in those without existing heart disease there is limited benefit from taking aspirin due to the risk of bleeding.

"'For this reason it is better for doctors to weigh up the benefit and risk of prescribing aspirin on an individual basis, rather than develop a blanket guideline suggesting everyone at risk of heart disease is routinely given aspirin. This ensures patient safety," she said.

In Northern Ireland, a medical charity has made a much stronger contribution to the debate, and have effectively 'rubbished' the report's findings.

Andrew Dougal, Chief Executive of NI Chest Heart & Stroke said: "People who have diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol or a family history of heart disease should not abandon aspirin as a result of reading about one research project in the Press."

See: 'Keep Taking The Tablets', Says NICHS

(BMcC/JM)

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