Millions of people take over-the-counter aspirin to reduce fevers or relieve headaches on a daily basis. While there are some benefits in taking aspirin, there are also risks involved, especially if taken every day.
Some studies find regularly taking aspirin can help protect against illnesses, however others show it actually does more harm than good. Recent findings from StudyFinds.org reveals that aspirin increases the risk of heart failure, increases likelihood of early death due to cancer in older adults, and even can trigger liver damage in some hospital patients.
The big question is: do the benefits outweigh the risks? Here are seven health risks from taking aspirin according to studies published in recent years.
Daily dose of aspirin may do more harm than good
A study from the University of Georgia warns that much of Americans’ beliefs about aspirin’s preemptive heart benefits come from outdated research conducted decades ago, that wouldn’t be considered completely accurate today. In fact, the study’s authors say that unless you’ve already suffered a heart attack or stroke, taking a daily aspirin may actually do more harm than good.
“We shouldn’t just assume that everyone will benefit from low-dose aspirin, and in fact the data shows that the potential benefits are similar to the potential harms for most people who have not had a cardiovascular event and are taking it to try to prevent a first heart attack or stroke,” explains study author and researcher Mark Ebell.
After reviewing decades’ worth of research on aspirin use and its effects, Ebell says that by today’s medical standards aspirin’s harms may outweigh its benefits. “There are so many things that we’re doing better now that reduce cardiovascular and colorectal cancer risk, which leaves less for aspirin to do,” he adds.
If someone is concerned about their heart health, but hasn’t actually suffered a heart attack or stroke, Ebell recommends they consult with their doctor about the best course of action before adopting a daily aspirin regiment.
Elderly people shouldn’t take aspirin to prevent heart disease
A study warns people over age 60 should avoid taking aspirin as a preventative measure against heart disease. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) says the risk of internal bleeding far outweighs any potential benefits for senior citizens.
Aspirin use for adults between 40 and 59 received a “C” grade from the USPSTF. This means that the team supports a treatment’s use for certain patients and that scientists are fairly certain patients will experience a small benefit — in this case, from taking aspirin to prevent heart disease.
However, taking aspirin to prevent heart disease when you’re over 60 received a “D” grade from the team. This means the USPSTF believes “the harms outweigh the benefits” and they discourage the practice. “Based on current evidence, the Task Force recommends against people 60 and older starting to take aspirin to prevent a first heart attack or stroke,” adds task force vice chair Michael Barry, M.D. “Because the chance of internal bleeding increases with age, the potential harms of aspirin use cancel out the benefits in this age group.”
May increase risk of heart failure
Researchers with the European Society of Cardiology report that taking aspirin raises the risk of heart failure among people with at least one pre-existing health risk. These include smoking, being obese, having high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease.
In a study of nearly 31,000 people at risk of developing heart failure, the team found that aspirin users saw their chances of a heart failure diagnosis go up by 26 percent. Researchers defined “at risk” as anyone with a pre-existing health condition.
To confirm their results, study authors compared the readings among aspirin users and non-users. They also examined the 74 percent of the study group that was free of cardiovascular disease (22,690 people) and found that using aspirin increased their risk of heart failure by 27 percent as well.
“This is the first study to report that among individuals with a least one risk factor for heart failure, those taking aspirin were more likely to subsequently develop the condition than those not using the medication,” says study author Dr. Blerim Mujaj of the University of Freiburg.
Can trigger liver damage in hospital patients
Common painkillers, including aspirin, can cause liver damage in hospital patients.
Research warns that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which also include ibuprofen, and naproxen pose a risk to liver health. Doctors and patients need to be aware of their dangers, scientists in China warn. Patients with high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, pre-existing liver disease, a history of prior surgeries are most vulnerable. The findings come from an analysis of hospital records of 156,570 individuals.
“Our results showed that the incidence in hospital patients was 13 times higher than that of the general population in mainland China,” says corresponding author Dr. DaiHong Guo from the Chinese People’s Liberation Army General Hospital in Beijing in a statement. “The incidence of liver injury for many drugs has been seriously underestimated.”
Aspirin increases likelihood of early death due to cancer in older adults
A study suggests taking aspirin daily may promote cancer progression and lead to early death among older individuals. The study was the first randomized, double-blind placebo-controlled clinical trial to examine low-dose aspirin in healthy older adults.
Researchers say aspirin is associated with a 19% higher risk of being diagnosed with cancers that spread. There’s also a 22% higher risk of doctors finding an advanced cancer. Among those who develop advanced cancers, those taking aspirin are also more likely to die.
“Deaths were particularly high among those on aspirin who were diagnosed with advanced solid cancers, suggesting a possible adverse effect of aspirin on the growth of cancers once they have already developed in older adults,” says senior author Andrew Chan. “Although these results suggest that we should be cautious about starting aspirin therapy in otherwise healthy older adults, this does not mean that individuals who are already taking aspirin–particularly if they began taking it at a younger age–should stop their aspirin regimen.”
Does not lower risk of dementia in seniors
Research published in the journal Neurology, found that small doses of aspirin did not have a beneficial impact on the brain. Scientists had hoped a daily aspirin would lower the chances of developing dementia by reducing brain inflammation and minimizing blood clots.
The study followed 19,114 people for nearly five years. Most of the participants at least 70 years old and did not have any history of heart disease or dementia. To track their mental health, the seniors were given thinking and memory tests throughout the project. Although some of the patients were given low-dose aspirin and some were given a placebo, researchers say there was no difference between the two groups and who started suffering from mental impairments.
“Unfortunately, our large study found that a daily low-dose aspirin provided no benefit to study participants at either preventing dementia or slowing cognitive decline,” says study author Joanne Ryan of Monash University’s School of Public Health in Melbourne, Australia.
Won’t prolong healthy aging in older adults
Popping an aspirin every day may be suggested by doctors in patients at risk of suffering a heart attack, but there doesn’t seem to be much reason for healthy older adults to take the drug. A study by researchers at Rush University in Chicago found that low-doses of aspirin daily has no effect on healthy aging among seniors over 70.
That is, taking 100 milligrams of the drug daily played no role in preventing dementia or physical disabilities in otherwise healthy individuals.
The massive international trial, which began in 2010, zeroed in on the risks and potential benefits of low-dose aspirin for older adults who had no previous cardiovascular events such as heart attacks, mental and physical disabilities, or medical conditions requiring aspirin use. In addition to find that aspirin did not extend what they call “healthy independent living,” they also found the risk of dying from a wide range of causes, such as cancer and heart disease, varied greatly in the trial and will require more analysis in follow-up studies.
Even though these studies show some harmful effects of taking aspirin, make sure to talk to a medical professional about whether or not to take the over-the-counter drug. If you are prescribed medication, never stop taking your regular doses without speaking to your doctor first.