For many in middle age, a daily aspirin is part of their health routine – even if they’re perfectly fit.
But taking the pill in a bid to ward off heart problems later in life does more harm than good, a major study has found.
For generations, aspirin has been given to those diagnosed with heart disease to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But a study of 160,000 people has raised concerns that for the so-called ‘worried well’ – those who take a dose of the blood thinner every day as a preventative measure – the risk of major internal bleeding significantly outweighs the benefits.
Researchers found that among healthy people, use of aspirin saw the risk of heart attack or a stroke drop 11 per cent, while the risk of bleeding went up 43 per cent.
Study leader Dr Sean Zheng, of King’s College London, said: ‘There is insufficient evidence to recommend routine aspirin use in the prevention of heart attacks, strokes and cardiovascular deaths in people without cardiovascular disease.
‘Aspirin use requires discussion between the patient and their physician, with the knowledge that any small potential cardiovascular benefits are weighed up against the real risk of severe bleeding.’
In the past, low-dose aspirin was prescribed for healthy people in middle age to reduce the risk of heart disease.
However, a decade ago a series of studies started to reveal the risk of bleeding. Professor Jeremy Pearson, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: ‘Current guidelines do not recommend aspirin for people who don’t have heart and circulatory diseases.
‘This is because, while aspirin reduces these people’s risk of heart attacks and strokes, any benefit is outweighed by an increased risk of bleeding.
‘If you have a heart attack, your doctor will usually prescribe a daily aspirin to try to prevent a second attack. In this case, the reduced risk of a second life-threatening heart attack substantially outweighs the risk of side effects, such as bleeding.’
However, not all doctors and experts are convinced by the change in advice.
The US Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel which makes recommendations about medical services in America, continues to recommend aspirin to people without heart disease.
The study, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that the situation was more complicated for diabetics, who are at higher risk of heart disease and are often prescribed aspirin.
Their risk of a heart attack or stroke also dropped 11 per cent, while the risk of bleeding rose by 30 per cent.