GALVESTON, Texas – The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston participated in an international study finding that low-dose aspirin therapy in older healthy adults without previous cardiovascular events did not prolong healthy independent living.

UTMB’s Sealy Center on Aging was one of 34 clinical sites in the United States taking part in the ASPirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly trial.

“This is a critically important study because many older adults who never had a heart attack or a stroke are taking aspirin,” says Dr. Elena Volpi, principal investigator of the UTMB clinical site. “In this study aspirin did not protect from developing dementia or physical disability, but it increased the risk of death.”

More than 19,000 people 65 and older in the United States and Australia participated in the ASPREE study, which began in 2010 to see if aspirin would increase survival free of persistent physical disability or dementia.

Upon enrolling, participants could not have dementia or a physical disability and had to be free of medical conditions requiring aspirin use. Individuals with stable chronic diseases, such as high blood pressure or diabetes, were included in the study. Participants were followed an average of 4.7 years to determine outcomes.

ASPREE researchers found that the rates for major cardiovascular events, including coronary heart disease, nonfatal heart attacks, and fatal and nonfatal ischemic stroke were similar for those taking aspirin when compared to those taking a placebo. 

The increased risk of death found in participants taking aspirin appeared to be mostly due to cancer deaths. However, the researchers urge caution saying those findings indicate a need for more long-term studies. 

Researchers also examined the risk of major bleeding; a recognized side effect of aspirin use, and found a significant increase in bleeding risk with aspirin. This finding was consistent with results from many other aspirin studies.

The takeaway message is that for healthy people over 70, like the ones enrolled in ASPREE, daily use of low-dose aspirin does not appear to extend a healthy life span.

Leaders of the ASPREE team include John McNeil of Monash University, Australia and Anne Murray of the Berman Center for Outcomes and Clinical Research at Hennepin Healthcare in Minneapolis.

The study, published in three papers in The New England Journal of Medicine, received support from the National Institute on Aging and the National Cancer Institute.