(dailyRx News) If you have heartburn and you're worried about developing Barrett's esophagus – the next stage of acid reflux – you may want to start taking a daily aspirin pill. A new study found that aspirin appears to be protective against Barrett's esophagus.
Researchers found that patients who took aspirin had less than half the risk for developing the condition, which is considered the precursor to esophageal cancer.
The study was conducted by a team of researchers at Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. The senior author was Dr. Chin Hur, an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard.
Barrett's esophagus is a condition that develops with frequent heartburn. The protective lining of the esophagus – commonly called your “food pipe” - changes in response to frequent exposure to stomach acid, which rises back up the esophagus during acid reflux.
Dr. Raman Muthusay, director of advanced endoscopy at UCLA, explained how Barrett's esophagus develops. He was not involved in the study.
“The stomach is supposed to be seeing a lot of acid so it has protective mechanisms. The esophagus isn't supposed to see a lot of acid. And so when it sees an abnormal amount of acid, it can often take on these protective mechanisms,” he said.
Barrett's esophagus can lead to adenocarcinoma, a form of esophageal cancer. It affects one percent of Americans, a fraction of those who experience acid reflux.
The Harvard researchers analyzed characteristics of 434 Barrett's esophagus patients and compared them to people without the condition. They found that patients who took aspirin were 44 percent less likely to have Barrett's esophagus.
The patients who took more than 325 milligrams of aspirin a day were at lower risk than those who took less. That's about one regular sized pill.
Dr. Hur explained in a statement that there is a “dose-response relationship,” in which the higher dose of aspirin you take, the more protection you get.
However, he did not advise that all people with heartburn start a daily aspirin regimen.
“It would not be advisable at this time for patients to start taking aspirin, particularly at higher doses, if preventing Barrett’s esophagus is the only goal. However, if additional data confirms our findings and an individual at high risk for development of Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer also could derive additional benefits, most notably cardiovascular, aspirin could be a consideration,“ said Dr. Hur.
In other words, more research is needed before doctors will officially recommend aspirin as a preventative measure. But it is known that aspirin is beneficial for other medical conditions, and your doctor might think it's a good idea, depending on your personal health considerations.
An additional finding of the study is that men had a greater risk for developing the condition than women.
The study was published in the journal Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology, and the authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.