WASHINGTON • A regimen of low-dose aspirin offers healthy older people no benefit in staving off cardiovascular disease, dementia or disability and increases their risk of bleeding in the digestive tract and brain, according to a new study.
Millions of healthy people take small doses of aspirin regularly in the belief that the drug will prevent heart attacks and strokes. But when researchers looked at more than 19,000 people in Australia and the United States over nearly five years, they found it was not so.
The test subjects, most of them from Australia, were older than 70, except for blacks and Hispanics in the US, who were recruited at age 65 or older because people in those groups have a higher risk of heart disease and cardiovascular problems than whites.
About half of them took 100mg of aspirin daily (slightly more than a baby aspirin, which is 81mg) and the other half were given a placebo. They were followed for a median of 4.7 years.
The results of the study, led by Dr John McNeil of Monash University in Melbourne, were released on Sunday in three articles in the New England Journal of Medicine.
When the researchers looked at death, disability and dementia, they found virtually no difference between the aspirin-taking group and the group given a placebo: 21.5 events per 1,000 person-years in the former and 21.2 per 1,000 person-years in the latter.
For cardiovascular disease, the rate was 10.7 events per 1,000 person-years in the aspirin group and 11.3 events per 1,000 person-years in the placebo group - also considered no difference.
But the rate of bleeding was significantly higher in the aspirin group: 3.8 per cent versus 2.8 per cent.
"The use of low-dose aspirin resulted in a significantly higher risk of major haemorrhage and did not result in a significantly lower risk of cardiovascular disease than placebo," the researchers wrote in one of the papers.
The researchers did not state whether healthy older people who have been taking aspirin should stop. And the findings do not apply to black or Hispanic people younger than 65 or others younger than 70.