ASPIRIN should not be taken by healthy people aged over 70, according to a new study which warns that any health benefits may be outweighed by the risk of internal bleeding and stomach ulcers.
The study comes as a potential blow to the multi-million-pound industry, which recently endorsed scientific advice that everyone over 50 should take aspirin regularly whether they are unhealthy or not.
The new study, published online by the British Medical Journal, claims the risk of bleeding offsets any potential heart benefits for healthy people over 70.
Dr Mark Nelson, a researcher from the University of Tasmania, said: “Despite sound evidence for efficacy, the temptation to blindly implement low-dose aspirin treatment for the primary prevention of heart disease in elderly people must be resisted.
“Epidemiological modelling suggests that the benefits of this strategy, a reduction of heart attack and stroke, may be offset by increased cases of serious bleeding.”
A spokesman for the aspirin industry greeted the findings with scepticism, citing another recent study that recommended daily aspirin for everyone over 50. Nick Henderson, executive director of the Aspirin Foundation, said: “The most recent scientific meeting reached the recommendation that the social effects on family and friends of a stroke was sufficient in itself to justify the regular daily taking of low-dose aspirin for anyone over 50.
“I am going to take a lot more convincing in regard to this study. Many of the scientists who work with aspirin take the drug every day. They understand the benefits outweigh the risks.”
Aspirin has seen a resurgence in recent months after the recall of painkillers such as Vioxx and Bextra. Doctors and patients have in many cases reverted to the “little white pill” for its proven reliability. Approximately 35,000 metric tonnes of aspirin are produced and consumed annually, enough to make over 100 billion standard aspirin tablets each year.
But the drug is not without risks. In a recent study of two large UK general hospitals, aspirin was responsible for 18 per cent of all admissions for adverse drug reactions.
Dr Bob Mack, a Kirkcudbright GP who sees many elderly patients, said he was aware of aspirin’s dangers and commended the new study for its “prudent thinking”.