Over the past number of years there has been an increased focus on the preventive benefits of various medicines. Aspirin is well known to reduce the chance of further heart attack or stroke in those with known cardiovascular disease but should it be taken by those who are otherwise well and what are the real benefits and risks of doing this?
Aspirin interferes with the bloods clotting mechanism. In those with narrowing of the arteries a clot forming in a blood vessel can be life threatening leading to a heart attack or stroke. Risk factors for cardiovascular disease include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, a family history of vascular disease, diabetes, drinking excess alcohol and smoking. If you find yourself in the above group it is possible that you have some narrowing of the arteries in your body even if it's never been diagnosed. Adapting your lifestyle to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease is clearly key but taking a daily aspirin may also help reduce your cardiovascular risk. A dose of 75mg of aspirin daily is usually advised .
Interfering with the bloods clotting mechanism also increases the chance of bleeding and this is a risk of long term aspirin therapy. Aspirin should therefore not be taken by those with a history of clotting disorders, stomach ulcers or gastrointestinal bleeding. Aspirin can interact with other anti-inflammatory medication (such as ibuprofen), blood thinners (such as warfarin and heparin), steroids and some alternative remedies such as evening primrose oil and Gingko. Combining these medications will increase the risk of abnormal bleeding. Aspirin allergy can be very severe and is common in those with asthma, care is advised here.
Aspirin has been in the news lately for reasons other than cardiovascular disease. A large study published last year in the Lancet suggested that aspirin may also reduce the risk of death from certain cancers. Researchers reanalysed the data from several trials originally designed to assess cardiovascular risk. The studies combined included more than 250,000 people. They concluded that prolonged use (more than 5 years), of low dose aspirin, decreased the mortality from prostate cancer by 10%, lung cancer 30%, colorectal (bowel) cancer by 50% and oesophageal cancer by 60%. Another study publicised recently from a research team in the Mayo Clinic USA concluded that taking aspirin may reduce the risk of pancreatic cancer by up to 35% ( this study was much smaller and only involved approximately 2000 people over the age of 55).
So I guess yes it does seem that an aspirin a day may in fact keep the doctor away. However as with all medicine it has risks as well as benefits and it is really important to consult your doctor before starting or stopping any aspirin therapy. It's not the right pill for every ill.