The Wonder Drug.
Aspirin is something almost every household has in their medicine cabinet. Commonly known for immediate treatment of mild to moderate aches, common cold, fever, or inflammation, some of us conveniently carry one or two tabs, just in case. Apparently, this humble drug does more than that. There have been studies that, if taken regularly, it can prevent more serious health conditions such as cardiovascular disease (CVD). Can this widely available drug be the answer to the number one cause of death in the world?
Aspirin is one of the oldest, most common drug in the world, dating back to 3000 BC, when the bark of the willow tree was found to have anti-inflammatory and pain-relieving properties. This was until pharmacists began extracting the willow bark's active ingredient and named it "salicin." This was eventually modified in the mid-1800s until the first acetylsalicylic acid was produced, patented, and sold by pharmaceutical company Bayer at the turn of the 20th century, naming it "aspirin" as what we know today. Its preventative blood-clotting properties was found out during the 1950s by American doctor Lawrence Craven, after discovering that his tonsillitis patients bled easily after chewing aspirin-containing gum. Two decades later, trials began for aspirin and its effects on heart attacks. But can the humble aspirin "do it all?" As of late, as many as 200 clinical trials have been conducted confirming that low-dose aspirin has benefits among patients with prior history of cardiovascular-related conditions such as acute coronary syndrome, previous myocardial function, stroke, or a transient attack according to Dr. Bassam Albaba, MD, FESC of Dresden International University-Health Sciences and Medicine.
But European guidelines released in 2016 stated that the drug is not recommended for primary prevention, and the US also imposed stricter regulations in administering aspirin to individuals that are at high-risk for CVD. This means that those who do not have any CVD are not advised to take aspirin as a preventive measure as it can increase the risk of bleeding.
This may be supported because more recent clinical trials tested aspirin as primary prevention of CVD, named ASCEND, ARRIVE, and ASPREE, involving different groups in their study. The ASCEND trial tested diabetic individuals with an average age of 63 years old, and no recorded CVD. While the study concluded that there was a decrease in risk of CVD, it increased the risk for bleeding. The ARRIVE trial-tested individuals with an average age of 64 years old and had a moderate risk of CVD. It concluded that aspirin intake did not decrease the risk in CVD as compared to a placebo. The ASPREE trial tested older individuals with an average age of 74 years old. It did not decrease the risk of CVD, yet, as with the ASCEND trial, it only increased the risk for bleeding. This may tell us that aspirin cannot "do it all," and at best, may prevent death among high-risk individuals only.
Because aspirin is readily available, it is not advisable to take aspirin on your own, especially for any CVD-related cause. Since it comes with serious side effects, it is always best to discuss this option with your physician. While aspirin may reduce the risk of having another heart attack, it does not guarantee that it won't happen again. CVD, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), kills more individuals than any other cause. This is why it is of utmost importance for patients to be careful about what they read, on what they hear, and on self-medicating, as it may only cause more harm than good. Keep aspirin for headaches, not for heart attacks