Should all people over a certain age take aspirin?

There has been a strong school of thought to suggest that all males over 45 to 50 and all females 55 to 60 should be taking aspirin to help prevent heart disease and strokes. However, while some of the studies have been positive in this regard, none have ever shown a distinct mortality benefit, i.e. that taking aspirin or a similar drug will make you live longer.

The reason for this is that around 20 per cent of the population has a tendency to bleeding. I am not suggesting that 20 per cent of the population are haemophiliacs or suffer some other serious genetic bleeding disorder, but there are certainly people who bruise easily and bleed more readily after injury or some medical or dental procedure.

I often tell the story of my mother, who took it upon herself to begin taking aspirin regularly in her early 70s. Not long afterwards, she arrived at my house for a holiday and was quite short of breath. When I ran some tests on her, I found that she had lost half her blood volume, despite no real symptoms apart from the shortness of breath and fatigue.

On further evaluation, she’d developed a severe gastritis, almost certainly due to the aspirin therapy. After she stopped taking aspirin and was given iron, after a few months her blood returned to normal.

Therefore, taking aspirin as a preventative if you don’t have a history of heart disease or haven’t been deemed to be at high risk for heart disease has to be a careful decision between yourself and your doctor – not something you do yourself purely because you’ve heard it’s a good idea. 

But recent studies have shown that taking a daily aspirin may reduce your heart attack and stroke rate by around 25 per cent, along with a 30 per cent reduction in many of the common cancers, so if you are not a bleeder or don’t have a history of reflux, dyspepsia or ulcer problems, once you’ve reached 50 years of age it’s a good idea to take 100mg of aspirin per day.

This is an edited extract from 5 Stages of Health by Dr Ross Walker?
Copyright © Dr Ross Walker 2012?
Reprinted by Permission of Random House Australia?
All Rights Reserved?
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