Macro shot of white asprin on white.

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SOPHIA ANTIPOLIS, France — Aspirin is one of the most common pain relievers in the world, but a new study finds it may be contributing to heart failure. Researchers with the European Society of Cardiology find 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.

Aspirin has a complicated medical history. While some studies find regularly taking aspirin can help protect against illnesses like COVID-19 and cancer, others show it actually does more harm than good.

“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 in a media release. “While the findings require confirmation, they do indicate that the potential link between aspirin and heart failure needs to be clarified.”

Older adults at high risk from aspirin use

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.

All of the participants were over the age of 40 and free of heart failure at the start of the experiment. The team recorded each person’s use of aspirin, separating them into two groups — users and non-users. Researchers followed up with the participants (who had an average age of 67) over a five-year period and after a person’s first fatal or non-fatal heart failure incident requiring hospitalization.

After accounting for influential factors like gender, weight, age, alcohol use, the use of medications, and various measures of health, the team concluded that aspirin independently contributes to increasing heart failure risk by more than a quarter among people with pre-existing health issues. Overall, 7,698 participants were taking aspirin and 1,330 developed heart failure over the next 5.3 years.

Even healthy people face dangers

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 was the first large study to investigate the relationship between aspirin use and incident heart failure in individuals with and without heart disease and at least one risk factor. Aspirin is commonly used – in our study one in four participants were taking the medication. In this population, aspirin use was associated with incident heart failure, independent of other risk factors,” Dr. Mujaj concludes.

“Large multinational randomized trials in adults at risk for heart failure are needed to verify these results. Until then, our observations suggest that aspirin should be prescribed with caution in those with heart failure or with risk factors for the condition.”

The findings appear in the journal ESC Heart Failure.

About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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