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"We need to be extremely careful about over-promoting aspirin intervention without having first fully understood these negative side effects," says Aileen Clarke. (Credit: iStockphoto)

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Is taking a daily aspirin worth the risk?

While a daily aspirin may offer some health benefits, experts say a fuller understanding of the potential side effects are needed.

The possible benefits of a daily dose have been promoted as a primary prevention for people who are at risk of developing cardiovascular disease or colorectal cancer.

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However, any such benefit needs to be balanced alongside a fuller understanding of the potentially harmful side effects such as bleeding and gastrointestinal problems, report researchers in a paper published by the National Institute for Health Research Health Technology Assessment (NIHR HTA) Programme.

The reported benefits of taking aspirin each day ranged from a 10 percent reduction in major cardiovascular events to a 15 percent drop in total coronary heart disease. In real terms, that would ultimately mean 33 to 46 fewer deaths per 100,000 patients taking the treatment.

There was also evidence of a reported reduction in incidents of colorectal cancer, which showed from approximately five years after the start of treatment. This would equate to 34 fewer deaths from colorectal cancer per 100,000 patients.

Aspirin’s negative side

The adverse effects of aspirin were also noted with a 37 percent increase in gastrointestinal bleeding (an extra 68 to 117 occurrences per 100,000 patients) and between a 32 percent and a 38 percent increase in the likelihood of a hemorrhagic stroke (an extra 8-10 occurrences per 100,000 patients).

“This study looks deeper into the range of research on regular aspirin use than anything before, using more innovative methods, and it makes it clear that there is an incredibly fine balance between the possible benefits and risks of the intervention,” says Aileen Clarke, professor of public health research at the University of Warwick Medical School.

“We need to be extremely careful about over-promoting aspirin intervention without having first fully understood these negative side effects.

“There are a number of ongoing trials that will be completed in the coming six years which may help to clarify this further, including the impact of different dose regimens.”

Source: University of Warwick

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