Does aspirin cut deaths? New study clouds picture

Reuters, Thursday 26 May 2011

Despite a lot of excitement about aspirin, scientists can't seem to agree on whether the drug helps healthy people live longer

ust one month after a study failed to find an effect on overall death rates

a new report based on the same data has arrived at the opposite conclusion.

"This reduction in all-cause mortality tilts the balance between the benefits and risks of treatment in favor of the use of aspirin," researchers write in the American Journal of Medicine.

Experts agree that aspirin, one of the world's most widely used drugs, is worth taking for people who've already had one heart attack. While it has side effects, it lowers the chance of a second heart attack, fatal or not, enough to outweigh those risks.

But whether and when healthy people might benefit is a hotly debated question, the answer to which depends on which medical group you ask.


The new study is an attempt to weigh the overall harms and benefit by looking at all-cause mortality, or deaths for any reason.

Known as a meta-analysis, it pools the results of nine previous aspirin trials involving more than 100,000 men and women and lasting four to ten years. Some participants were healthy and some had diabetes, but none had chest pain or other symptoms of an ailing heart.

According to the authors of the report, 3.65 percent of the people randomly assigned to small doses of aspirin died during the trials, compared to 3.74 percent of people not taking the drug.

The researchers say that difference is enough to favor aspirin use in people without a history of heart disease, and should inform future guidelines.

But a closer look at the data shows 1,111 people would need to take aspirin daily for the duration of the trials to stave off just one death -- the so-called number needed to treat.

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