The use of aspirin in elderly now questioned

Older person taking medicine

And there is some evidence that daily low-dose aspirin may help people to avoid a heart attack or stroke who are at risk and younger than 70 years old.

Experts said the findings showed many older people may be taking the medicine "unnecessarily" and that it is "really of very little benefit".

Prof McNeil cautioned the findings did not apply to those with existing conditions where aspirin is recommended as a preventative measure against further heart attacks, strokes or angina.

The new research, known as the ASPREE trial (ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly), is the largest clinical trial ever to be conducted in Australia.

The study examined more than 19,000 people in the United States and Australia, most of whom were aged older than 70.

The study found a daily low dose of aspirin did not reduce risks of certain diseases and medical problems in older people.

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Participants were randomly assigned to receive 100 milligrams of aspirin each day or a placebo pill, and were followed for an average of 4.7 years. Taking this into account, the trial also explored the effect of aspirin on survival rates without disability. The trial found 90.3 percent of the people who took aspirin remained alive with no persistent physical disability or dementia, compared with 90.5 percent of people on the placebo. ASPREE has provided this answer, McNeil said.

The ASPREE trial was funded by the US National Institutes of Health, the Australian National Health and Medical Council, Victorian Cancer Agency and Monash University. But a large, global study has found the drug was unlikely to extend the lives of healthy people over the age of 70.

Several years ago, many physicians floated the idea of using a regimen of low-dose daily aspirin to prevent cardiovascular diseases in the elderly.

"I've spent the last five, six years trying to get all my seniors to stop taking aspirin" based on the clear risks and unproven benefit, he told Reuters Health by phone.

He was keen to participate in the aspirin study when his GP asked him to take part.

Researchers found people taking the aspirin showed a significantly higher risk of bleeding, such as hemorrhages.

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People are prescribed aspirin after a heart attack or stroke because the drug thins the blood and reduces the chances of a repeat attack. Bleeding is a well-known side effect of aspirin, and is more common in older people.

They found that the major haemorrhagic events suffered involved gastrointestinal (stomach and intestines) and intracranial (inside the skull) bleeding.

There are proven benefits of the drug for people after a heart attack or stroke.

So what should older healthy adults do with this new information about aspirin? Instead, it may cause them serious harm.

With the growing proportion of elderly people in our community, a major focus of preventive medicine is to maintain the independence of this age-group for as long as possible.

"The increase in cancer deaths in study participants in the aspirin group was surprising, given prior studies suggesting aspirin use improved cancer outcomes", Leslie Ford, the associate director of clinical research at the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Prevention, said in a news release.

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