Body & Fitness

What you need to know about Aspirin

It seems every few weeks there is more research released into the health benefits of low-dose aspirin. Should you take it every day?

How often should you take aspirin?

It is – according to some medical experts – a magic pill. Originally developed to treat pain, fever and inflammation, aspirin has been shown to reduce the risk of heart attacks and some types of strokes. And research suggests it may also be able to cut your chances of getting other major health conditions such as diabetes, dementia and certain cancers.

But if aspirin is so wonderful, then why aren’t we all taking it every day? Many GPs do prescribe daily low-dose aspirin for patients with a history of heart problems or a raised risk of having a heart attack. But aspirin increases the risk of internal bleeding which can be very serious, so many people are put off taking it.

Other side effects of the drug can include:

• A perforated ulcer

• A haemorrhaging stroke (as opposed to a clotting stroke which aspirin can prevent)

• Breathing problems in people with asthma

• Indigestion and nausea

• Tinnitus (ringing in the ears) and hearing loss.

Doctors say some people definitely shouldn’t take aspirin because risks outweigh the benefits. These are usually people in their twenties or thirties who are healthy and have no risk factors associated with heart disease, such as having diabetes, high cholesterol or blood sugar, or a family history of heart disease.

But for older people who have those symptoms, the drug may be a very important weapon in the battle against heart disease.

And that’s not the only thing aspirin can help protect against. Recent studies suggest that it can cut the risk of developing several cancers and prevent existing cancer from spreading.

It appears to be most effective in helping people with cancer of the colon, prostate, rectum, stomach and oesophagus.

A US study found that for every 1000 Americans aged 51 to 79, taking aspirin would prevent 11 cases of heart disease and four cases of cancer.

However, many experts are reluctant to prescribe it on the basis of cancer prevention alone because of the possible side effects. They are awaiting the results of more studies. In the meantime, other research points to yet more benefits of taking aspirin on a regular basis.

Did you know?

your sense of smell shuts down when you’re asleep. That’s a reason for smoke alarms – you can’t smell smoke when you’re in the land of nod.

Researchers have found that the drug also appears to:

• Prevent or halt the development of dementia, including Alzheimer’s. It’s believed Alzheimer’s may be due to inflammation in the brain, so the anti-inflammatory properties of aspirin can help.

• Lessen the chances of developing pregnancy complications pre-eclampsia and foetal growth retardation, which are due to blood vessels in the placenta getting blocked • Aspirin can help to prevent blood clots and one worldwide trial suggests the risk of pre-eclampsia, which in severe cases can be fatal to both the mum and baby, can be reduced by 13 per cent.

• Decrease the risk of Parkinson’s disease by an enormous 40 per cent in women who take at least two aspirin a week. If you’re wondering whether you should take aspirin every day, the best thing to do is talk to your doctor. They can assess the risks versus the benefits in your particular case and will also take other factors into consideration, such as whether you are susceptible to problems such as ulcers.

• Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 because it can trigger a rare but dangerous condition called Reye’s syndrome, which causes swelling to the brain and liver, and can lead to a coma. Use other forms of pain relief such as paracetamol.

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