Hidden Dangers Of Popular Aspirin Therapy
More than 20 percent of American adults take an aspirin a day to prevent heart attacks and strokes. But new research shows that it may not be as effective as we’ve been led to believe. Plus, the dangers of low dose aspirin are real, and more common than you might think. And in some people, taking aspirin regularly may prevent it from working when it is most needed. Read on to learn how to make heart healthy choices and stay safe.
The Origins Of Bad Advice
In the 1980s preliminary evidence began to appear suggesting that aspirin could reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes. The theory is sensible. Many types of cardiovascular disease (though not all) result in blood clots blocking the flow to major organs. Aspirin can prevent blood clots. Therefore aspirin might be able to prevent some types of cardiovascular disease events. It’s not a cure. It doesn’t even address the real problem. But it does offer a theoretical way to save lives.
The theory is so good and the early evidence so strong that in 1989 the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force suggested that all men over the age of 40 should consider taking low dose aspirin daily.
Unfortunately, criticisms of the early evidence for low dose aspirin daily have shown that the research quality was questionable. And subsequent studies have shown different results. As we’ll see in just a moment, there is evidence that low dose daily aspirin can reduce heart attacks and some strokes for some people who have already had another heart attack or stroke. But it can be harmful for those who have never had a heart attack or stroke. And it is not the most effective way to reduce risk even for those it can benefit.
Who Can Aspirin Help? Who Can Aspirin Hurt?
A London research group conducted a huge study looking at the outcomes of 100,000 people using daily aspirin. The participants were from three continents. None of the participants had ever had a heart attack or stroke. This study found that there was absolutely no difference in rates of death among participants versus the rest of the population. There was a slight reduction in risk of non-fatal heart attacks among participants. However, there was a 30 percent increase in major internal bleeding events among the participants.
The conclusion of the researchers was that the marginal benefits of regular aspirin use among those who had never had a heart attack or stroke were vastly outweighed by the risks.
The news gets worse. Another even larger study involving 400,000 participants found that the risks of major bleeding events was even greater than in the previous study. And like its predecesor, it found little benefit for those who had not previously had a heart attack or stroke.
And even more recently, a major Japanese study scheduled from 10 years stopped after just 5. Why? Because after 5 years the researchers found absolutely no differences between the participants taking regularly aspirin and those not taking aspirin when it came to cardiovascular protection for those who had not previously had a heart attack or stroke. But, of course, they did find increased risk of bleeding and other problems among the aspirin group.
The results are becoming increasingly clear when it comes to those who have not had a heart attack or stroke. The risks of daily aspirin are greater than the minimal (or non-existent) benefits.
Does that mean that low dose aspirin on a daily basis is never beneficial? Not quite. For men who have previously had a heart attack or stroke, aspirin can reduce the risk of another event by as much as 30 percent. But does that mean you should start popping aspirin? Not so fast. Because experts say that the 30 percent risk reduction is only for a small group of men. Here’s why. Healthy lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of a future event by a whopping 86 percent. And when making healthy lifestyle changes, the benefits of daily aspirin aren’t worth mentioning. According to experts, daily aspirin is advisable only for men who have had heart attacks or strokes and refuse to stop smoking, guzzling two liters of soda, and moving from the couch only to grab another beer. For all other men, there are better options.
The Dangers Of Aspirin
Even among the small number of men for whom daily aspirin is advisable, it is not without risks. In fact, for every 6 men aspirin can save from a non-fatal heart attack, 1 will have a major bleeding event. Here are some of the possible dangers of aspirin, including low dose aspirin:
● gastrointestinal bleeding
● stroke caused by bleeding in the brain
● tinnitus or hearing loss
Another potentially problem is that for some people - particularly those who are at risk for cardiovascular events - there is a risk of developing tolerance or even resistance to aspirin. The research on this subject is still very early, so not a lot is known for certain. However, there is mounting evidence that the potential benefits of aspirin may fade over time for those who regularly use the drug. This doesn’t affect everyone, but it does affect some, and at this time, it’s hard to know who is who.
Considering all the risks and problems associated with regular aspirin use, making healthier lifestyle changes is a much better choice.
For anyone who is not allergic to aspirin, occasional use of reasonable amounts is generally safe. And, in fact, it is often used by emergency care workers treating those who are experiencing a heart attack or a stroke caused by a blood clot. But the regular, daily use of aspirin may be something to reconsider for all but a small number of men.
Although aspirin can be risky, it may be one of the safest drugs. Don’t make the mistake of choosing another, riskier drug in place of aspirin. But if you aren’t already using any drugs - including aspirin - make healthy lifestyle changes instead to reduce your risk by the greatest amount.
Don’t Stop Suddenly
If you have been taking aspirin on a daily or regular basis, experts warn about the dangers of stopping. That can cause a rebound effect. The result, ironically, can be a heart attack - though not a fatal one. According to some studies stopping an aspirin a day can increase non-fatal heart attack risk by as much as 60 percent for some men.
Unfortunately, those who take an aspirin a day are in a tough bind. Continuing can increase risks of the problems already mentioned. But stopping can significantly increase the risk of a non-fatal heart attack. At this time there is no solid evidence of a safe and reliable way to wean yourself without these risks.
The bottom line is that you should think long and hard before starting a habit of daily aspirin. This popular medical advice is now proven to be dangerous for many men. If you’ve never had a heart attack or stroke science shows that there is little to no benefit of daily aspirin for you. And if you have had a heart attack or stroke, making some healthy lifestyle changes can offer you much better protection without the risks.