Low-dose aspirin not the saviour it’s touted to be, study finds

woman taking aspirin pill

Aspirin has been a mainstay analgesic in Australia for decades. It was the go-to treatment for many families in the 1960s and `70s. In more recent decades, it has been recommended and used for stroke prevention.

However, new research indicates it may not prevent strokes at all – at least in healthy people. That research, published by Monash University, shows daily, low-dose aspirin doesn’t prevent strokes in relatively healthy people aged over 70.

But before you rush off to the medicine cabinet and clear out your stocks of Aspro and Disprin, hold on. Aspirin may still have a place for some, particularly those at high risk of stroke.

Aspirin’s strength is its ability as an anti-platelet. In short, it thins the blood, helping to prevent the development of dangerous blood clots. Such blood clots can block an artery, leading to a stroke.

However, that strength can also be a weakness. It can increase the risk of unwanted bleeding, which can also be dangerous. The key, as always with medical matters, is to consult your health professional before making any decisions about aspirin dosage.

Notwithstanding that advice, aspirin is no longer the standard household medicine it was for many over-50s growing up.

Aspirin in Australia

The late 1960s and early `70s embraced my childhood, and aspirin was most certainly the go-to medicine in our household. If you had a headache, out came the box of Disprin. Half a tablet for young’uns like me, dissolved in a glass of water. We had Aspro, too. Both products were aspirin, but Disprin was easier. No tablet to swallow, and the taste – surprisingly for a medicine – wasn’t unpleasant.

Ibuprofen was not yet a thing back then. Paracetamol was, but an erroneous link to a disease a couple of decades earlier had seen its popularity plummet. Another remedy readily available was Bex, of which aspirin was also a main ingredient. Two Bex signs adorned the double doors of my local corner shop. “You need a Bex and a good lie down”, was a popular catchcry.

Strangely, Bex disappeared from shelves in the mid-’70s. For decades I did not know why. There was no internet help available back then. As it turns out, it was its other main ingredient – phenacetin – that brought on Bex’s demise. It was discovered that ingesting large amounts of phenacetin was linked to widespread kidney disease in habitual users. Oops!

Phenacetin was removed from Bex in 1975, and paracetamol added, but the brand had apparently suffered irreparable damage. It had disappeared from shelves a few years later.

The next generation

Despite the demise of Bex, aspirin remained a preferred pain relief medication in many Australian households. Aspirin is still an effective analgesic. However, because it is more likely to cause gastrointestinal bleeding, it is now seen as inferior to ibuprofen.

It has remained popular for its perceived stroke-prevention qualities, but the new Monash University study could change that.

If you are a regular user of aspirin, be sure to consult your GP or other health professional before making a change.

The recommendations from the study are quite clear, though. “Low-dose aspirin may have no role for the primary prevention of stroke,” it concludes. It recommends that “caution should be taken with use of aspirin in older persons prone to head trauma (e.g., from falls)”.

The days of aspirin as aspirant may indeed be numbered.

Are you a regular user of aspirin? For which conditions have you been using the drug? Let us know via the comments section below.

Also read: How to spot the signs of stroke and reduce your risk

Health disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Andrew Gigacz

Andrew has developed knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income and government entitlements, as well as issues affecting older Australians moving into or living in retirement. He's an accomplished writer with a passion for health and human stories.

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