Low-Dose Aspirin Risks Seem to Outweigh Gains

The above is the headline of a HealthDay article published on June 5, 2012 in the Health section of US News and World Reports. The article is based on a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) on June 6, 2012 showing that low-dose aspirin usage was associated with increased risk of major gastrointestinal or cerebral bleeding episodes.

The study authors suggest that any benefit in possibly preventing heart disease could be offset by the risk that the serious bleeding could cause. Study author, Dr. Antonio Nicolucci, head of the department of clinical pharmacology at nonprofit biomedical research organization Consorzio Mario Negri Sud in Santa Maria Imbaro, Italy commented, “Aspirin is not effective in protecting a person from a first cardiac event, a heart attack or stroke.” He continued, “In addition, taking aspirin has significant risks, and thus shouldn’t be part of primary prevention unless you’re at moderate to high risk of heart disease.”

The study used a very large sample of people following 186,425 individuals who were using low dose aspirin daily, and comparing them to an equal number of people who were not using aspirin. Over a 5.7 year period the researchers recorded over 6900 cases of major bleeding events which included gastrointestinal bleeding and intracranial hemorrhage. In that same time frame, the group that did not use aspirin had less than half that amount of bleeding incidents.

Dr. Thomas Schwenk, dean of the University of Nevada School of Medicine, commented in an interview for WSL from Chicago, “No preventive approach is without risk. If the benefits are barely measurable but the risks are real and possibly greater, then the decision making may shift against the use of aspirin.”

In their conclusion, the study authors point out that the facts show that the risks of bleeding offset any potential benefit low dose daily aspirin may have given by saying, “In conclusion, weighing the benefits of aspirin therapy against the potential harms is of particular relevance in the primary prevention setting, in which benefits seem to be lower than expected based on results in high-risk populations.”

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