Aspirin May Not Be Worth the Risk

Aspirin may raise gastrointestinal bleeding risk in some women, but it may be worth it for some women over 65

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Thinking about taking a daily aspirin to improve your health? You may want to think again. Some side effects of aspirin may outweigh the medication's benefits.

For younger women, aspirin use might raise the risk of serious side effects like bleeding with few health benefits, a new study found. But some women 65 and older may see more benefits from aspirin than drawbacks.

“Age is the most important determinant of aspirin treatment effect, and the protective effects of aspirin with regard to [heart disease] increased with age,” wrote the study authors, led by Frank L. J. Visseren, MD, PhD, of the University Medical Centre in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

Dr. Visseren and team noted that past studies have found that taking aspirin regularly may reduce heart disease and cancer risk in some patients. The current study, however, found that it may raise the risk of gastrointestinal bleeding, dampening these possible benefits.

Gastrointestinal bleeding is any type of bleeding that starts in the human digestive tract.

Dr. Visseren and team reviewed data on 27,939 women enrolled in the Women’s Health Study (WHS). All the patients were 45 years old or older.

The WHS randomly selected patients to take 100 milligrams of real aspirin or a placebo (fake) aspirin every other day. The WHS lasted from 1993 to 2004.

These researchers found 1,832 cases of other cancers and 604 cases of heart disease among these women — as well as 302 cases of intestinal bleeding and 168 cases of bowel cancer. All cancers that were not bowel cancer were referred to as "other" cancers.

Seven years after the WHS study ended, doctors diagnosed 1,388 more cases of other cancers and 107 more cases of bowel cancer among these patients.

Dr. Visseren and team indicated that taking aspirin — as opposed to a placebo — every other day slightly lowered bowel cancer and heart disease risk in women younger than 65. But it also raised the risk of intestinal bleeding — and this risk became more pronounced with age.

Still, for some women older than 65, taking aspirin every other day to lower heart disease and cancer risk may be better than not taking it at all, Dr. Visseren and colleagues said. Patients should speak to their doctors before starting an aspirin regimen.

This study was published Dec. 4 in Heart.

A grant from the Netherlands Organization for Health Research and Development funded this research. Some of the study authors received funding from pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Merck and Novartis.

Review Date: 
December 3, 2014
Last Updated:
December 8, 2014