Medical Research Council - London Institute of Medical Sciences

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Help or Hinder

Results of a five-year study reveal the pros and cons of the elderly taking regular aspirin

02 November 2018

Help or Hinder

Surprisingly beautiful under a microscope, crystals of aspirin (pictured), are more familiar as key ingredients in commonly-used painkillers. Besides pain relief, aspirin also affects circulation: by preventing platelets from aggregating, it reduces the likelihood of blood clots, so is generally prescribed to patients with a high risk of cardiovascular disease. Yet, without this elevated risk, taking aspirin preventatively might not be so beneficial. A recent five year-long study testing this in healthy elderly patients, with no previous history of heart conditions, found that patients taking low doses of aspirin were no less likely to develop cardiovascular problems than those receiving a placebo. By contrast, the probability of serious bleeding, or haemorrhage, was higher in the aspirin group, as was overall mortality, especially related to cancer. While these findings should be interpreted with caution, balancing the benefits of aspirin with the potential risks is crucial to determining appropriate treatments.

Written by Emmanuelle Briolat

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