Taking a daily dose of aspirin in the hope that it will prevent heart attacks may do more harm than good among healthy people, according to the British Heart Foundation.
The warning has been issued after publication of medical research into the benefits of the drug and the dangers of it causing internal bleeding.
Millions of Britons are thought to be taking low doses of aspirin every day in the belief the tablets will protect them against heart attacks and strokes by lowering the risk of blood clots.
“We know that patients with symptoms of artery disease, such as angina, heart attack or stroke, can reduce their risk of further problems by taking a small dose of aspirin each day,” said Professor Peter Weissberg, the foundation’s medical director. “The findings of this study agree with our current advice that people who do not have symptomatic or diagnosed artery or heart disease should not take aspirin, because the risks of bleeding may outweigh the benefits.” The study, partially funded by the foundation, followed a group of Scottish patients, aged 50 and above, who had no history of cardiovascular disorders. Over an eight-year period they were prescribed 100mg of aspirin or a placebo.
The results have now been presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress in Barcelona.
The lead author was Professor Gerry Fowkes, from the Wolfson Unit for Prevention of Peripheral Vascular Diseases in Edinburgh. His paper said: “The benefits of anti—platelet therapy in the prevention of future cardio and cerebrovascular events is well established in patients with a clinical history of arterial vascular disease. However, evidence in primary prevention is limited, with studies suggesting that any benefit of aspirin must be weighed against the risk of bleeding.” The study showing aspirin could do more harm than good to healthy people will add to years of confusion over the wider benefits of the painkilling drug.
The National Cancer Institute in the US last year suggested that women could help protect themselves against forms of breast cancer caused by oestrogen by taking low doses of the drug. But in the UK, clinicians have warned that the evidence was conflicting and it was inadvisable for women to start taking aspirin on a daily basis in the hope of preventing cancer.
Another possible benefit of the drug has been to prevent cataracts. Research at Reading University led by Professor James Crabbe found that aspirin could help reduce the risk of cataracts as the drug helps stop proteins linking to form a cataract.