If you're a healthy adult who pops a low-dose Aspirin daily in the hopes of preventing a heart attack you may be doing yourself more harm than good.
That's the conclusion of a study that analyzed data from nine previous trials involving more than 100,000 participants for an average of six years.
Doctors have long known that Aspirin, which has anti-clotting properties, can help prevent a second heart attack, a stroke, or death in individuals who have already had a heart attack or stroke. But its ability to avert a first heart attack or stroke – known as primary prevention – has not been demonstrated in people who are free of cardiovascular disease when they start taking Aspirin on a regular basis.
The new meta-analysis, led by Kausik Ray from the University of London, provides fresh insights.
According to the findings published in Archives of Internal Medicine, there's no difference in the rate of fatal heart attacks or fatal strokes between healthy individuals taking a daily Aspirin and those popping placebos.
The study, however, did show a 10 per cent drop in non-fatal heart attacks. But this benefit must be measured against a 30 per cent spike in gastrointestinal bleeding and a small increase in hemorrhagic strokes (or brain bleeds).
"If you are at low risk of a heart attack or stroke, Aspirin is really not going to have much benefit and it will increase your risk of bleeding," said Samia Mora, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, who wrote a commentary published along with the study.
What the new study doesn't address is the issue of "borderline" patients – those who are not in the pink of health, but don't yet have obvious signs of heart disease.
Dr. Mora noted that four large clinical trials are currently investigating the use of Aspirin in this patient population and results are several years out.
In the meantime, she said borderline patients should discuss the pros and cons of treatment with their physicians. And, she stressed, they shouldn't attempt to self-medicate.