Friday, May 29, 2009

An aspirin a day may not keep the doctor away after all

Sudden shifts in medical advice can cause both patients and doctors confusion. In recent years the benefits of breast self exam for cancer, checking PSA (prostate specific antigen) levels for prostate cancer screening, vitamin supplements of any sort, and chest x-rays for lung cancer screening have all been reported to be ineffective and sometimes harmful to patients.

Add one more to the list - the routine use of low dose 81mg aspirin in the general population to decrease heart attack and stroke risk. This had been pushed such that most adults should consider taking a "baby" (81mg dose) aspirin a day. This seemingly harmless recommendation actually seems to be causing more problems then it's worth according to a new review of the literature.

Analysis of data from over 100,000 clinical trial participants found the risk of harm largely cancelled out the benefits of taking the drug. Use of aspirin in the lower-risk group was found to reduce non-fatal heart attacks by about 20%, with no difference in the risk of stroke or deaths from vascular causes. But it also increased the risk of internal bleeding by around 30%, a potentially life threatening complication. This is summarized here.

Only those who have already had a heart attack or stroke should be advised to take a daily aspirin is the new suggestion, at least for this week.

Click below to hear an audio summary:


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