New Delhi: A landmark US-Australian research has found that a low dose of aspirin will not help older adults live longer or prevent their first heart attack, instead will increase the risk of bleeding in older people.

The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on Monday, found that aspirin intake by healthy people over 70 years of age had no measurable impact on a person’s likelihood to suffer from heart disease, dementia, stroke, cancer, or physical disability.

The study involved over 19,000 people, of which 9,525 received aspirin and 9,589 recruited in placebo group. The participants took a daily low-dose of aspirin every day for nearly five years, with researchers monitoring their health and any occurrences of disease, disability or death.

The researchers found an increase in the number of cases of serious internal bleeding among the aspirin takers (3.8%) compared to the placebo group (2.8%).

“Bleeding is a well-known side effect of aspirin, and is more common in older people. 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," the researchers said in a statement.

“After a median of 4.7 years of follow-up, the rate of cardiovascular disease was 10.7 events per 1000 person years in the aspirin group and 11.3 events per 1000 person years in the placebo group. The rate of major haemorrhage was 8.6 events per 1000 person years and 6.2 events per 1000 person years, respectively," said the study.

The randomised double-blind trial, called ASPREE, was conducted by Monash University in Australia and the Berman Centre for Outcomes and Clinical Research in the United States.

Doctors in India say the findings have come as an eye opener for Indian population where self prescription is common. “Aspirin is a double-edged sword; it is absolutely essential drug and a lifesaver in patients with established heart disease (or arterial blockages) and many patients with diabetes where risk is high. However in patients without these conditions, it should not be recommended, particularly in elderly where risk of bleeding is high. In India, self treatment with aspirin is often seen, and it should be strictly forbidden," said Anoop Misra, chairman, Fortis-C-DOC Centre of Excellence for Diabetes, Metabolic Diseases and Endocrinology.

According to principal investigator of the study, John McNeil, who is head of Monash University’s Department of Epidemiology and Preventive Medicine, the results of the trial will result in a rethinking of global guidelines relating to the use of aspirin to prevent common conditions associated with ageing.

“Despite the fact that aspirin has been around for more than 100 years, we have not known whether healthy older people should take it as a preventive measure to keep them healthy for longer. Aspirin is the most widely used of all preventive drugs and an answer to this question is long overdue. ASPREE has provided this answer, McNeil said.

McNeil added that a small increase in deaths observed in the aspirin group, primarily from cancer, required further investigation as researchers cannot rule out that it may be a chance finding. Other large aspirin studies have suggested that aspirin may prevent cancer over the longer term.

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