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Is aspirin a wonder drug for everyone?
6:30pm Tuesday 13th March 2012 in Health
CREDITED with reducing strokes and the risk of bowel cancer, and even curing the odd headache, aspirin is our latest “wonder drug”. But could a daily dose do healthy people more harm than good?
Taking aspirin has so many proven benefits some have hailed it as a “miracle” drug.
Numerous studies have shown this cheap little white pill can reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes in those with pre-existing cardiovascular disease.
Then just a few months ago, an international study led by researchers at the universities of Newcastle and Leeds proved taking a regular dose of aspirin reduces the risk of bowel cancer in people with a family history of the disease by 60 per cent.
Plus, a 2010 Oxford University study found daily aspirin doses reduced the number of deaths from a range of common cancers by 20 per cent.
However, new research has found people without existing cardiovascular disease reap only a small cardiovascular health benefit from taking aspirin regularly. This is more than outweighed by the risk of internal bleeding.
Researchers from the University of London analysed data from nine trials involving more than 100,000 participants without a history of cardiovascular disease, half of whom took aspirin for about six years, and half who took a placebo.
Although they found taking aspirin daily, or every other day, reduced the risk of total cardiovascular disease events by ten per cent, most of the reduction was in non-fatal heart attacks.
The researchers also found this modest benefit was countered by a 30 per cent rise in the risk of potentially fatal or debilitating internal bleeding.
Stressing that people with a history of heart conditions shouldn’t stop taking their medication, the lead author of the study, Dr Rao Seshasai, said: “The beneficial effect of aspirin preventing future cardiovascular disease events in people with established heart attacks or strokes is indisputable.
“However, the benefits of aspirin in those individuals not known to have these conditions are far more modest and aspirin treatment may potentially result in considerable harm due to major bleeding.”
The study also investigated the effect aspirin had on cancer, and found it didn’t reduce the risk of death from all cancers, although Dr Seshasai stressed more research is needed. Overall, he suggests aspirin treatment should be used more selectively.
Dr Steve Mowle, vice-chairman of the Royal College of GPs said those already taking the drug shouldn’t cut out the habit too quickly. He said: “There’s a rebound element to taking aspirin and it’s important not to suddenly stop it.”
More important than aspirin, when it comes to preventing cardiovascular disease is focusing on lifestyle, said Dr Mowle. Risk factors include diet, as well as blood pressure and cholesterol levels.