An Aspirin A Day

We have known there were certain health benefits to taking aspirin, but despite that, few people take it regularly.

Perhaps they will now.

Researchers at the University of Southern California have determined that taking low-dose aspirin every day could reduce the risk of a heart attack, prevent some cancers and cancer death, extend the lives and save the lives of hundreds of thousands of older Americans over the course of 20 years. What's more, they estimate a net health benefit worth $692 billion for the U.S.

“Although the health benefits of aspirin are well established, few people take it,” said lead author David B. Agus, the founding director and CEO of the Lawrence J. Ellison Institute for Transformative Medicine at USC, and a USC professor of medicine and engineering. “Our study shows multiple health benefits and a reduction in health care spending from this simple, low-cost measure that should be considered a standard part of care for the appropriate patient.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has expressed concern that patients 60 years old and older who took aspirin every day might be at risk of stroke, gastrointestinal bleeding, and brain bleeding.

“The problem that this creates for Americans and medical professionals is that the information about aspirin is confusing,” said study co-author Étienne Gaudette, an assistant professor at the USC School of Pharmacy and policy director of the USC Roybal Center for Health Policy Simulation. “This means some Americans who would benefit from aspirin aren’t taking it. Through our study, we sought to make it much easier for everyone to understand what the long-term benefits are.”

Aspirin's best known benefit is as a blood thinning agent, and as such it an help patients at risk of heart disease because it prevents clotting. Each year one in four deaths is attributed to cardiovascular disease. Of course, no one owns a patent on aspirin, and the scientists suspect that may be an unspoken part of the prblem.

“The irony of our findings is that aspirin may be too cheap,” said study co-author Dana Goldman, director of the Schaeffer Center for Health Policy and Economics and USC Distinguished Professor of Public Policy, Pharmacy, and Economics. “Only 40 percent of Americans are taking aspirin when they should, and providers have little incentive to push that number up, despite the obvious health benefits and health care savings.”

The research has been published in PLOS ONE.