Should I take aspirin every day?
Q. Should I take aspirin every day? It seems to have a lot of benefits but I gather there are also risks.
A. There is no simple answer. Research suggests that a daily low-dose (75 mg or about a quarter of the usual dose) of aspirin may help prevent or mitigate heart disease, clot-related strokes and, most recently, cancer. But the data on the benefits is not conclusive overall – in fact, some studies do not show benefits - and there are undisputed and potentially serious side effects, principally internal bleeding, gastric ulcers and an increased risk of haemorrhagic stroke.
The most important advice is not to take aspirin – or discontinue taking it – without specific advice from your doctor. Because the benefits and risks vary so much in individuals, it is vital that your doctor assesses the balance in your situation.
Aspirin may prevent heart attacks in people who have already had one, and be appropriate for patients with a history of heart disease and after bypass surgery. This is because it reduces the risk of clots forming in blood vessels. But the British Heart Foundation (www.bhf.org.uk) advises that, while ‘this group should continue to take aspirin as prescribed, people who don’t have heart disease shouldn’t take aspirin because the risks may outweigh the benefits.’
Aspirin may help prevent clot-related (ischaemic) strokes, which affect 80 per cent or more of cases, but it increases the risk of strokes caused by bleeding in the brain. According to the Stroke Association (www.stroke.org.uk), ‘people who have been specifically told to take aspirin following a stroke or heart attack should continue. Equally, people who take regular aspirin as a precaution without advice from their doctor should be aware of the potential harm they could be causing themselves, as thinning the blood can be extremely dangerous to anyone that has any minor internal bleeds.’
Recent studies showed that aspirin may help to prevent some forms of cancer, and lower the risk of some cancers spreading. However, Cancer Research UK cautions that, although ‘these could be important findings, it does not [their bold] mean everyone, particularly people with cancer, should start taking aspirin.’ Cancer Research UK’s fact sheet ‘Can aspirin stop my cancer spreading’ is helpful (visit www.cancerresearchuk.org then Search for ‘aspirin’).
People with cancer must consult their doctors before taking aspirin. Some patients have a higher than normal risk of bleeding, and aspirin can cause bad side effects taken with some cancer drugs.
Aspirin can cause serious complications in people with other medical conditions, including asthma, stomach ulcers, or haemophilia.
If your doctor prescribes aspirin, never take it on an empty stomach: take it with or just after food.
TV PRESENTER HAYLEY CUTTS TALKS ABOUT HER STAMMER
When you watch award-winning BBC TV presenter Hayley Cutts, 29, speaking fluently on screen, you would never guess that she suffered from ‘a really bad stammer’ from the age of four. Although her mother sought medical help continually, ‘Doctors just said I would grow out of it eventually; but when you are six each day is a very long time. The hardest stage was primary school because no one – not even the teachers - understood the condition and I used to get teased.’ It wasn’t until Hayley was 11 that she was finally offered a year of speech therapy, which taught her techniques to help deal with the problem. She confesses that her speech difficulty still affects her occasionally: ‘if I’m slightly self-conscious or nervous, my brain can race ahead of my speech, and the words get scrambled.’
Her experience and empathy has led Hayley to become an Ambassador for I CAN, the children’s speech, language and communication charity (www.ican.org.uk). ‘I want to raise awareness that one in ten children in the UK has problems communicating but these children aren’t being stupid or difficult, in fact they are often very clever. I am supporting I CAN because it offers expert resources so children can be diagnosed and given help at an early stage.’
CHARITY OF THE WEEK: www.arts4dementia.org.uk
Communal singing is well known to help people with dementia (see Singing for the Brain at www.alzheimers.org.uk). Now Veronica Franklin Gould, founder of Arts4dementia, believes that ‘regular challenging stimulation’ from many other arts-related activities - drawing, drama, poetry, photography and scriptwriting as well as music – provides not only pleasure and interest but can actually help slow the deterioration. Having seen my father suffer with dementia, and, after he died, witnessed the hugely positive effects – including sheer joy - that Singing for the Brain can bring, I am a big fan.