Aspirin: the research behind the headlines

aspirin

Q: Should I take aspirin every day? It seems to have a lot of benefits but I gather there are risks.

A: Research suggests that a daily low dose (75mg, or a quarter of the usual dose) of aspirin may help prevent or mitigate heart disease, clot-related strokes and, most recently, cancer. But this data is not conclusive overall – in fact, some studies do not show benefits – and there are potentially serious side effects, such as internal bleeding, gastric ulcers and an increased risk of haemorrhagic stroke.

Do not take – or discontinue taking – aspirin 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 (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 (stroke.org.uk), ‘People who have been specifically told to take aspirin following a stroke or heart attack should continue to do so. 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 who 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 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 cancerresearchuk.org and 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 when taken with some cancer drugs, as well as cause complications in people with medical conditions such as asthma, stomach ulcers, or haemophilia.

If your doctor prescribes aspirin, never take it on an empty stomach – take it with or just after food.

Multitasking Muslin

Mummy testers tell me that these five-in-one giant muslin squares, made from antibacterial and breathable bamboo rayon, are ideal for a bit of camouflag when breastfeeding. Measuring a generous 140cm/55in square, they also work as a sarong and shawl for mums, and a swaddling cloth, light blanket and sunshade for babies. The Great Swandoodle (right) in white and the Sweet Dreameezz in black (not shown) come with a choice of four patterns. Dreameezz makes a great buggy blackout blind for afternoon naps on the go. £21.99 each, from cuski.com.

Charity Of The Week: Arts 4 Dementia

Communal singing is well known to help people with dementia (see Singing for the Brain at alzheimers.org.uk).Now Veronica Franklin Gould,founder of Arts 4Dementia, believes that ‘regular challenging stimulation’ from other arts, such as drawing, drama,photography and scriptwriting, can also help slow the deterioration. Having witnessed the hugely positive effects that Singing for the Brain can bring, I’m a big fan. arts4dementia.org.uk

Hayley Speaks Up For Children

When you watch award-winning Newsround presenter Hayley Cutts (left), 29, speaking fluently on screen, you would never guess that she suffered from ‘a bad stammer’ from the age of four. ‘Doctors said I would grow out of it eventually, but at that age each day is a long time and I used to get teased.’ It wasn’t until Hayley was 11 that she was offered a year of speech therapy, which taught her techniques to help deal with the problem, although even today, ‘if I’m nervous, the words get scrambled’. Her experience has led Hayley to become an ambassador for the children’s speech, language and communication charity I Can (ican.org.uk). ‘I want to raise awareness that one child in ten in the UK has problems communicating. I Can offers expert resources so children can be diagnosed and given help at an early stage.’

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