The effects of aspirin in elderly populations: risks and benefits

The hero has turned into the villain

aspirin in elderly

Throughout the years, several studies recommended the intake of daily low-doses of aspirin by the groups more at risk of heart attacks or cardiovascular failure as it seemed to reduce the incidence of these problems. The effects of aspirin in elderly populations, in particular, have been hailed as a potential-life saving in their prevention. But this paradigm is set to change as new studies come to light questioning the relation between the benefits and the risks of this prescribed treatment.

Risks of intake of aspirin in elderly populations

aspirin in elderly risks
Source: Times of Malta

Aspirin is a blood thinner, as it prevents the blood platelets from gathering together and form clots. When taken in small doses, it is relatively safe, which also explains why this is a popular painkiller.

Nevertheless, this effect of the aspirin in elderly populations can be more worrisome as its frequent intake can increase the risk of other problems.

Gastrointestinal bleeding: on one side, the regular intake of aspirin can cause stomach ulcers. On the other, any bleeding ulcers, regardless of their cause, can see their bleeding worsen by the aspirin that also prevents a clot from forming, which can potentially be life-threatening.

Stroke: although the goal of administering aspirin in elderly populations is to reduce the risk of stroke, it can also increase the chances of a hemorrhagic stroke. This happens when a blood vessel burst and the body is prevented from creating a clot to staunch the blood flow.

Allergy: anyone with an allergy to aspirin can risk its side-effects regardless of the doses consumed.

Benefits of intake of aspirin in elderly populations

Aspirin has been prescribed to the middle-age and elderly populations based on several studies that indicated its potential to reduce the risk of occlusive vascular events, such as strokes and myocardial infarction.

This effect was confirmed in a 2002 study for patients in high-risk groups or with previous occurrences.

This treatment is also being prescribed to healthy elders as a preventive since occlusive vascular events are more frequent in older age. The reasoning is the same in both cases, the same effect that lowers the threat for patients at risk can also work to prevent this risk from arising.

Nevertheless, several recent researches are now contesting this preventive strategy.

What do recent studies say now?

aspirin in elderly studies

A 2016 Japanese study was the first to make the big headlines when concluded that intake of aspirin in elderly subjects did not produce any preventive effects.

However, a large scale 2018 research reached more worrisome conclusions. According to the researchers, not only aspirin doesn’t produce any preventive effects in healthy elderly, it can, in fact, increase their mortality rate.

During their research, more deaths occurred in the group receiving aspirin than in the placebo group. The main cause for these deaths in the aspirin group was cancer. While 3.1% of the individuals in the aspirin group died from cancer-related issues, the value was about 2.3% for the placebo one.

The researchers admit that these results were surprising and should be interpreted with caution, but overall, they concluded that the risks of taking daily low-doses of aspirin outweigh the benefits. They also noted that these results are only valid for healthy elderly as individuals from high-risk groups were not accepted in this trial.