A new study confirms the risk of aspirin and says that the supposed benefits of “an aspirin a day keeps the heart attack away” don’t apply to most people. In fact, according to the authors, people without a history of cardiovascular disease (such as heart attack or stroke) are unlikely to benefit from a regular dose of aspirin, given the associated risk of internal bleeding.

The research, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, January 9, 2012, is the largest study to date on the effects of aspirin in people without established cardiovascular conditions.

Researchers from Professor Kausik Ray’s group at St George’s, University of London investigated the drug’s effectiveness in primary prevention and the prevalence of side effects. They also assessed whether aspirin had any impact on the risk of death from cancer among people considered at risk of cardiovascular disease.

They analyzed data from nine clinical trials involving more than 100,000 participants without a history of cardiovascular disease. Half of the participants took aspirin and half took a placebo. The average participant in the aspirin arm of these trials took aspirin for about six years.

The researchers found that aspirin in conventional daily or alternate day doses reduced the risk of total cardiovascular disease events by just 10% – and this was largely due to a reduction in non-fatal heart attacks. It did not result in a reduction in other cardiovascular disease events, including death from heart attack or fatal or non-fatal stroke.

The study also showed that this benefit was almost entirely offset by a 30% increase in risk of life-threatening or debilitating internal bleeding events. This means that while one cardiovascular disease event was averted for every 120 people treated with aspirin for about six years, one in 73 people suffered from potentially significant bleeding during the same period.

The lead author of the report, Dr. Rao Seshasai, said “the evidence that aspirin may prevent 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 than previously believed and, in fact, aspirin treatment may potentially result in considerable harm due to major bleeding.”

Dr. Seshasai added: “There is an enormous interest in understanding the role of aspirin in cancer prevention. No evidence of benefit was found in the studies reviewed, but more research is needed given these were only of six years in duration.”

It is interesting to see that drug companies that make and market aspirin have tried hard to convince people that “an aspirin a day keeps the heart attack away” despite the researchers of the original study in 1988 never recommending the once-a-day aspirin regimen in the first place.

The pharmaceutical industry immediately began a massive press release campaign that distorted the research report. The press releases at the time gave the impression that the daily aspirin was a sure-fire way to prevent heart attacks. The news was picked up by most newspapers and even medical doctors began “prescribing” aspirin as a preventive measure.

Thanks in part to this deceptive marketing campaign, Americans take more than 25 million aspirin tablets every day. One hopes that with new evidence from this research paper, that people become more cautious about taking aspirin unnecessarily.

To read an abstract of the article, click on the following link:

http://archinte.ama-assn.org/cgi/content/short/archinternmed.2011.628