Clinical question: What are the benefits and risks of daily aspirin use for primary prevention in healthy elderly adults?
Background: Prior studies have shown the efficacy of aspirin for secondary prevention of cardiovascular disease and stroke, but the evidence supporting the use of aspirin for primary prevention is less certain.
Study design: Randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled prospective study with a 5-year study period.
Setting: Australia and the United States.
Synopsis: The Aspirin in Reducing Events in the Elderly (ASPREE) trial included 19,114 community-dwelling healthy people (aged 70 years and older overall and aged 65 years and older if black or Hispanic), without cardiovascular disease, dementia or disability. The goal was to investigate the effect of daily low-dose aspirin (100 mg, enteric coated) on healthy life span (without dementia or disability), with prespecified secondary outcomes (cardiovascular events and major hemorrhage).
Analysis was by intention-to-treat. Participants were predominantly Caucasian, approximately 10% of patients had diabetes, 74% had hypertension, and 65% had dyslipidemia. There was high adherence to the intervention. There was no significant difference in the primary outcome (disability-free survival) or in the secondary outcome of cardiovascular event (fatal or nonfatal MI or stroke, or hospitalization for heart failure.) The rate of major hemorrhage (hemorrhagic stroke, symptomatic intracranial bleeding, clinically significant extracranial bleeding) was higher in the aspirin group (P less than .001). In contrast to prior studies, subgroup analysis showed higher mortality in the aspirin group (attributed to an increase in the risk of cancer-related death.) The authors warn that this finding should be interpreted with caution.
Bottom line: Aspirin use for primary prevention in healthy elderly persons over a 5-year period did not change disability-free survival, did not decrease cardiovascular risk, and increased the rate of major hemorrhage.
Citation: McNeil JJ et al. Effect of aspirin on all-cause mortality in the healthy elderly. N Engl J Med. 2018;379:1519-28.
Dr. Linker is an assistant professor of medicine in the division of hospital medicine at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York.